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Court releases 51 Air Force Academy students jailed after coup attempt

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An Ankara court on Wednesday decided to release 51 students from the Air Force Academy who were arrested in the aftermath of a failed coup attempt on July 15 due to alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement.

The Ankara 14th High Criminal Court’s decision to release the students came in the wake of the emergence of new evidence sent to the court by the Air Forces Command and the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.

The prosecutor’s office told the court that the investigation against the students showed they did not download the smart phone application known as ByLock to their mobile phones.

Turkish prosecutors believe ByLock is the top communication tool among followers of the Gülen movement. Thousands of people have been arrested simply for using this application.

The trial of the students will begin on March 28. The students face three consecutive life sentences in addition to a jail term of from seven years six months up to 15 years on charges of attempting to eliminate the constitutional order, attempting to overthrow the Turkish government and the Parliament by use of force and being members of a terror organization.

Another Ankara court also decided to release 43 other Air Force Academy students on Jan. 24 who were arrested following the July 15 coup attempt.

There are still 48 Air Force Academy students who are behind bars.

Turkey experienced a military coup attempt on July 15 that killed over 240 people and wounded more than a thousand others. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement despite the lack of any evidence to that effect.

Although the Gülen movement strongly denies having any role in the putsch, the government accuses it of having masterminded the foiled coup. Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, called for an international investigation into the coup attempt, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

More than 135,000 people have been purged from state bodies and 43,000 arrested since the coup attempt. Arrestees include journalists, judges, prosecutors, police and military officers, academics, governors and even a comedian.

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