ANKARA (Reuters) - A Turkish court on Thursday sentenced 17 people, including a former air force commander, to life in prison for involvement in a 2016 coup attempt, the private Demiroren news agency reported.
The case, in which 224 people, including U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, were tried, was the most senior case on the abortive putsch to date. Ankara blames Gulen for orchestrating the July 15, 2016 failed coup, an accusation Gulen has denied.
On Thursday, the court sentenced 17 defendants, including former Air Force Commander Akin Ozturk, to 141 aggravated life sentences for “attempting to destroy constitutional order”, Demiroren news agency said.
An aggravated life term means there is no possibility of amnesty.
It said the remaining 174 convicted defendants were handed sentences of varying lengths. The court acquitted 33 of the 224 defendants.
Speaking after the decision, Oguz Altinkaynak, a lawyer for Turkey’s defense ministry, said the decision was an important step for Turkey’s judiciary, but added that appeals would be filed against some of the acquittals.
“Some of the convictions were materially appropriate, but there are decisions that we will appeal against and take to an appeals court, especially certain acquittals, other sentences,” Altinkaynak told Reuters. “Generally, Turkey’s judiciary has passed an important test.”
Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul also told reporters after the ruling that justice had been served, and added that the suspects had received a punishment they deserved.
At least 250 people were killed across Turkey, many of them unarmed civilians, when military personnel attempted to topple Erdogan’s government on July 15, 2016, commandeering tanks, warplanes and helicopters and bombing parliament.
Since then, Turkish authorities have formally arrested more than 77,000 people over alleged links to Gulen’s network, while another 150,000 people have been sacked or suspended from their jobs in the civil service, military and elsewhere.
Rights groups and Turkey’s western allies have been alarmed over the scope of the crackdown, saying President Tayyip Erdogan has used the coup as a pretext to quash dissent. The government, however, has said the measures were necessary due to the gravity of the security threats Turkey faces.
Reporting by Mert Ozkan, Yesim Dikmen and Tuvan Gumrukcu, Editing by Ece Toksabay, William Maclean