A Turkish court has sentenced two army officers to life in jail, in the first verdicts to be handed down over the coup attempt of July 2016. The suspects had denied the charges.
The state-run Anadolu Agency reported that the court in the eastern city of Erzurum had convicted a former colonel and a former major on counts of attempting to abolish Turkey's "constitutional order." The two defendants have rejected the accusation. Both were on duty at Erzurum's gendarmerie command at the time of the failed coup on July 15.
The coup attempt of July 15, 2016 was thwarted by people taking to the streets and protesting. An estimated 250 people died.
The Turkish government maintains that the overthrow had been orchestrated by a network of followers of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen and his "Hizmet" (service) movement. The cleric , who has been living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, has condemned the coup attempt and denied having any involvement in the plot.
Turkey declared a state of emergency after the failed coup, which since has been extended twice. Under the state of emergency, the country has conducted an aggressive crackdown on Gulen's followers, arresting 41,000 people and purging more than 120,000 from government jobs, including soldiers, police officers, teachers, and judges. Human rights organizations have criticized the extent of the crackdown, with critics saying that the state of emergency is chiefly being used to target Erdogan's opponents.
The first of many trials
With a record number of suspects behind bars, the trials are only beginning to get underway and are expected to last for many months. Twenty-nine Turkish police officers meanwhile also went on trial in Istanbul in December, standing accused of failing to defend Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the failed coup on July 15, 2016.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to reintroduce the death penalty after the coup attempt
One of the main trials is due to begin on February 20, with 47 suspects standing accused of being part of a plot to assassinate Erdogan on the night of the coup attempt.
The reintroduction of the death penalty is now under discussion and it might be brought to a parliamentary vote later in the year.
Erdogan has said there is strong public demand for retribution, repeatedly calling on the US to extradite Fethullah Gulen, who less than five years ago was Erdogan's ally but has now been branded the leader of a terrorist organization, which Turkey refers to as "FETO."
The US has so far refused to comply with Turkey's demand. Washington has said that the extradition requests from Turkey in Gulen's case have not met US standards of evidence.
Armed clashes on the night of the failed putsch resulted in roughly 250 people dying in what has been described as one of the most traumatic incidents of modern Turkish history.
ss/se (AFP, AP, Reuters)