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Turkey hands down hundreds of life sentences in 2016 coup attempt trial

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A Turkish court on Thursday handed down life sentences to a majority of 475 defendants, including army commanders and pilots, accused of directing a coup attempt from an airbase near the capital city of Ankara in 2016.

One of the biggest proceedings related to the 2016 coup attempt against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the trial, which began in August 2017, involves 475 defendants, 365 of them in custody.

A total of 337 defendants, including at least 25 F-16 pilots, were given aggravated life sentences — the severest punishment in Turkish courts — meaning there is no possibility of parole.

On the night of the abortive putsch, the parliament was hit three times by F-16 fighter jets as was the road near the presidential palace and the headquarters of the special forces and the Ankara police.

Civilian defendants Kemal Batmaz, Hakan Çiçek, Nurettin Oruç and Harun Biniş, who were considered the ringleaders, were given 79 aggravated life sentences on charges of attempting to assassinate the president, murdering 77 people and seeking to overthrow the constitutional order.

More than 250 civilians lost their lives on July 15, 2016 as part of the abortive putsch that aimed to overthrow Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, which Ankara blamed on members of the faith-based Gülen movement inspired by the teachings of Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen.

The 79-year-old cleric Gülen, who lives in the US and was among six defendants tried in absentia, has denied any role in the attempted coup. The dossiers of those defendants were separated from the main trial, Turkish media reports said.

Despite the strong denial of Gülen and his followers, Ankara removed in excess of 130,000 civil servants from their jobs and imprisoned more than 90,000 people over links to the movement as part of a massive purge launched under the pretext of an anti-coup fight.

Four years on, police operations targeting suspects accused of links to the self-exiled preacher continue on a regular basis.

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