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Turkey sentences 22 former soldiers to life over 2016 coup attempt in latest mass trial

The trial marks the end of cases heard in Ankara, almost five years after rogue soldiers tried to depose President Erdogan
Riot police enter the courthouse in Sincan, outside Ankara, on 7 April 2021, before the verdict in the trial of 497 defendants over the 2016 failed coup attempt (AFP)

A Turkish court on Wednesday sentenced 22 former soldiers to life in prison for their roles in a failed attempt to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2016, one of the president's lawyers said.

Following the botched coup, Turkey has led a wide-ranging political crackdown, with the arrest and mass trials of suspects. Thousands have been given life sentences in trials across Turkey. 

In the trial that was concluded on Wednesday, a court in Ankara had investigated the role of 497 former soldiers, including members of the presidential guard.

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The coup attempt included a raid on Turkey's main state television broadcaster, whose newscaster was forced to read out a statement from the military junta leaders.

One of the president's lawyers provided AFP with a document showing the judge jailing 22 former ranking military personnel for life.

These included former lieutenant colonel Umit Gencer, who was convicted of "violating the constitutional order" by making TRT television read out a "coup declaration".

The court also handed ex-major Fedakar Akca an aggravated life sentence, a sentence with no prospect of parole, for leading a team from the regiment to the general staff headquarters on the night of the putsch, state news agency Anadolu reported.

Former colonel Muhammet Tanju Poshor received a sentence for directing the occupation of the TRT building, it added.

The court also handed a life sentence to ex-major Osman Koltarla, who was in charge of the presidential palace's security at the time. 

Turkey replaced the death penalty with aggravated life sentences in 2004.

Last trial in the capital

The investigation of this regiment started in October 2017 and led to 243 hearings, Anadolu said.

According to the news agency, the end of the trial marked the end of the cases heard in the capital, nearly five years later.

More than 250 people were killed in the failed coup. Turkey accuses US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan, of being behind the move, a claim he strongly denies.

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Erdogan has become sensitive to the military's role in the country's political life following the attempt to overthrow him. The president has for years accused Gulen's supporters of establishing a "parallel state", infiltrating the police, judiciary, military and other state institutions.

Tens of thousands of people have been arrested over alleged links to Gulen since 2016, and police raids continue to this day.

More than 100,000 have been fired or suspended from the public sector over similar allegations.

Earlier this week, Erdogan accused 104 retired admirals of "hinting at a political coup" after they criticised his plans for a new canal in Istanbul.