A Turkish court has jailed 337 former pilots and other suspects for life over plot to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a failed coup attempt four years ago.
Nearly 500 defendants were accused of carrying out the attempt to overthrow the government on July 15, 2016, from an airbase near the capital Ankara.
More than 250 people were killed in the attempt as rogue soldiers commandeered warplanes, helicopters and tanks in a bid to take control of key state institutions.
The trial was the highest-profile of dozens of court cases targeting thousands of people accused of involvement in the coup attempt, which Ankara blamed on the supporters of the United States-based Muslim preacher and businessman, Fethullah Gulen.
Turkish media said at least 25 F-16 pilots were given aggravated life sentences – the most severe punishment in Turkish courts – meaning there is no possibility of parole.
Former air force commander Akin Ozturk and others at the Akinci airbase near Ankara were accused of directing the coup and bombing government buildings, including Parliament, and attempting to kill Erdogan.
Turkey’s then-military chief and now defence minister Hulusi Akar and other commanders were held captive for several hours at the base on the night of the coup.
Four ringleaders, dubbed “civilian imams” over ties to Gulen’s network, were given 79 aggravated life sentences for charges of attempting to assassinate the president, murder, and seeking to overthrow the constitutional order, the state-run Anadolu Agency said.
The defendants were expected to appeal Thursday’s verdicts, which were welcomed by members of Erdogan’s ruling party.
“We are experiencing the joy of seeing the defendants, who were already put on trial by the public’s conscience, receive their punishment,” Anadolu quoted Leyla Sahin Usta, a deputy chairman of the ruling party as saying. “This is the end of the era of coups in Turkey.”
The father of a trainee pilot, Alper Kalin, said the court had failed to consider evidence that pointed at some trainee pilots’ innocence.
“We are not happy with this verdict. We will carry this to the appropriate places,” said Ali Kalin.
The trial, which opened on Aug. 1, 2017, was part of a post-coup crackdown that has imprisoned around 77,000 people and seen another 130,000 fired from their government jobs.
On the opening day, dozens of the defendants were paraded into the courthouse handcuffed, with two paramilitary police officers on each arm, as some protesters threw stones and shouted “Murderers!”
Rita Osakwe/Agency Reports