By Ilya U. Topper and Dogan Tilic
Istanbul/Ankara, Nov 26 (efe-epa).- Turkish judges handed down life sentences to 333 soldiers and four civilians convicted of plotting a failed coup that shook the country in 2016.
The trial, which began in 2017, involved 475 defendants, almost all of them from the military. Only 70 were acquitted while the rest were handed sentences of varying severity, mostly life imprisonment, Turkish news agency Anadolu reported.
Among the high-level convicts are 25 fighter pilots who on 15 July 2016 launched their rebellion from the Akinci airbase, near the capital Ankara.
Eleven of the pilots were found guilty of dropping bombs on Ankara, hitting a police academy, Parliament and an area near the Presidential Palace, killing 68 people. Nine others, all civilians, were killed in the capital that night during clashes.
To that end, judges in charge of the case on Thursday handed down 79 life sentences for each pilot, representing each life lost in the tumult with the additional charges of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and another for “attempting to assassinate the president.”
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was on holiday in the coastal city of Marmaris at the time. A command of coup-plotters attacked the city hours after he left by plane.
The maximum penalty was also given to four civilians who were convicted of being high-ranking members of the organization of religious preacher Fethullah Gülen. Ankara has accused Gülen, who has lived in self-exile in the United States since 1999, of masterminding the coup via his network in Turkey.
Turkey has branded the movement as a terrorist organization.
Gülen has denied the accusations. He was due to be on trial in Turkey on Thursday, but extradition attempts by Ankara have flopped.
The Gülen movement, founded in the 1970s, cultivated influence in Turkish administrations, the police and the military. Critics of the Islamist movement labeled it a parallel state.
Gülen was once close to the government when Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) rose to national prominence in 2001 but the pact between the two fell apart in 2013 amid a power struggle.
Following the failed 2016 coup against Erdogan, Ankara purged over 130,000 alleged Gülenists from the civil service, local government administrations and the education sector, making more than 100,000 arrests in the process.
Some 50,000 people, mainly civilians, were held in custody. Last year, just over half remained behind bars.
The top military officials detained in the process have never publicly confessed belonging to the Gülen movement. EFE-EPA