Turkish court upholds sentences in major coup attempt trial

Two years after being sentenced to heavy sentences for their involvement in a 2016 coup attempt, soldiers and civilians had their sentences upheld by an appeals court on Friday. A regional court in the capital Ankara paved the way for a final appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal, or Yargıtay, for dozens of defendants in the case with its decision.

The Ankara Regional Court, the penultimate appellate authority, handed down convictions and acquittals for the defendants in accordance with applicable laws. The defendants were among 475 defendants on trial for their putschist actions at the Akıncı military base in the capital on July 15, 2016, when military officers and others linked to the Gülenist Terrorist Group (FETÖ) attempted to seize power .

It was one of the largest trials relating to the attempted coup that killed 251 people and injured nearly 2,200 others. The trial also shed broader light on the role of civilians in the attempted coup, including executives from businesses associated with the terror group.

On November 26, 2020, the Fourth High Criminal Court in the capital Ankara handed down 79 counts of aggravated life imprisonment and an additional prison term of 3,901 years in total against 15 military officers and four civilians at the trial. Another 291 defendants were sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment while 70 others were acquitted. Forty-six others received life sentences while other defendants in the case received lighter prison terms for membership in a terrorist group.

The appeals court said in its verdict that the sentences were appropriate based on the judicial process applied, which resulted in the finding that the defendants were guilty of the crimes with which they were charged.

The Akıncı trial was one of the largest and longest trials regarding the attempted coup. Some 515 hearings were held, with 385 eyewitnesses and 440 testimony from plaintiffs heard throughout the trial. Prosecutors had prepared a 4,658-page indictment for the trial against the defendants who held nearly every rank in the military, from generals and lieutenants to non-commissioned officers. They had requested 79 cases of aggravated life imprisonment for the civilian defendants in the case and 16 military officers. They also called for additional prison terms for these 16 officers. Prosecutors had requested aggravated life imprisonment for 355 defendants, acquittals for 71 defendants and lesser prison terms for the remaining defendants. Despite clear evidence, most defendants denied the charges. The civilian defendants claimed that they were at the Akıncı base “by coincidence”, while the military officers claimed that they had not participated in the attempt despite being caught red-handed on footage from base security cameras. Some said they thought they were taking part in an anti-terrorist operation.

The coup attempt was a rare example of people without military training organizing military officers to overthrow the government, unlike previous coups in the country which were almost exclusively planned and executed by military officers. Adil Öksüz is considered the “civilian” leader of the coup attempt. The former theology professor, captured in Akıncı when the coup attempt was suppressed, disappeared after a court controversially released him soon after the attempt. General Akın Öztürk, former head of the Turkish air force, has been accused of being the military leader of the attack. Öztürk, who was in Akıncı for what he called a random visit, was sentenced to multiple aggravated life sentences in another trial over the attempted coup.

Since the coup attempt, Turkish justice has managed to conclude 289 trials against the putschists, convicting 4,891 defendants. The lengthy appeals process is also over, with most trials to overturn verdicts still taking place in higher courts. Determined to deliver swift justice, Turkey has set up new courts and huge prison complexes that also include spacious courtrooms. In the aftermath of the coup attempt, prosecutors’ offices across the country launched more than 100,000 investigations into coup-related crimes.

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Elna M. Lemons