A Turkish court has found 42 former soldiers guilty of trying to kill President Tayyip Erdogan during last year’s failed coup, and handed most of them life sentences in the highest profile case related to the attempted putsch so far.
Judge Emirsah Bastog read out guilty verdicts for 42 of the 47 defendants at the court in Mugla, southwestern Turkey, news agency Reuters reported. Mugla is near the luxury resort where Erdogan and his family narrowly escaped a team of rogue soldiers who stormed his hotel during the night of the coup.
The trial, which started in February and included Erdogan as a co-plaintiff, is part of a sweeping security crackdown that followed the failed putsch of July last year. It is the biggest such case to reach a conclusion so far.
“I hope the verdict today is beneficial to everyone,” Bastog said as he sentenced 34 of the accused to “aggravated” life sentences, the harshest punishment possible under Turkish law because it lengthens the minimum sentence required for parole.
Another six defendants were given life terms while two others were given lesser sentences.
“(Several) defendants have been found guilty on the charge of attempting to assassinate the president,” Bastog told the packed courtroom.
One was acquitted and another was transferred to another court. No verdict was given for three who were tried in absentia, including US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for orchestrating the coup.
Demonstrators threw eggs and plastic bottles at the defendants as police escorted them from the courthouse. Others waved Turkish flags, blared a famous song praising the president and called for a return to capital punishment.
The court heard final statements from the defendants just before Bastog delivered his verdict. Some of the accused said they did not believe the court could deliver a fair verdict and had been under political pressure.
“From the moment I was arrested at the air base on July 16, I was treated like a criminal,” Ergun Sahin, a former air force lieutenant, told the court.
More than 240 people were killed on the night of July 15, 2016, when putschists commandeered tanks, warplanes and helicopters, attacking parliament and attempting to overthrow the government.
Erdogan’s lawyer, who was present at the case, said that justice had been served.
“Had these putschists succeeded that night in the attack against our president, history would have changed, we would be living in a different Turkey now,” Huseyin Aydin said.