More than 60 former air force cadets who were convicted on coup charges and sentenced to life in prison due to their alleged role in a coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016 have been released pending a retrial after the country’s Supreme Court of Appeals overturned their sentences, according to Turkish media reports.
There were conflicting reports about the exact number of military cadets who would be released from prison. Some reports said it was 71 while others said 66 or 67 cadets would be released from prison following the top court’s decision.
A large crowd of people including family members gathered at İstanbul’s notorious Silivri Prison on Tuesday night where most political prisoners are jailed to welcome the released cadets.
The air force cadets said on the night of the coup attempt, which claimed the lives of 251 people and was suppressed overnight, they were taken to İstanbul in buses from Yalova and that they did not know they were part of a coup attempt.
Among the former cadets released on Tuesday night was Furkan Çetinkaya, 26. Çetinkaya’s mother, Melek, has become famous due to her campaign for the release of the military cadets whom she said were jailed on bogus charges. The woman, who has staged numerous street protests for the release of the cadets, has been detained numerous times and even jailed for two months in 2020 on charges of disseminating terrorist propaganda and praising a criminal.
İcerde ki evlatlarimin hepsini alana kadar mücadeleye devam edeceğim. pic.twitter.com/NYEKsxVoij
— Melek Çetinkaya (@MelekCetk) June 22, 2022
“I will continue to fight until I get all my sons in prison back,” tweeted Melek Çetinkaya after a posting a photo of herself with her son Furkan following his release from prison.
A platform defending the rights of jailed military cadets, the Military Cadets Committee, tweeted on Wednesday that they were experiencing bittersweet joy due to the release of some of the jailed military cadets on Tuesday night.
“As we said at the beginning, we will be here until the last cadet is released from jail. We will continue to fight against injustice. Nobody should doubt it,” the platform tweeted.
Dün akşam 6 yıldır yaşadığımız hasrete kısmi de olsa son verdik. Buruk bir sevinç yaşıyoruz. İlk günden beri söylediğimiz gibi, son arkadaşımız demir parmaklıklardan ardından çıkıp gelene kadar biz buradayız. Haksızlarla mücadele etmeye devam edeceğiz. Kimsenin şüphesi olmasın!..
— Askeri Öğr. Komitesi (@Askeriogrenci16) June 22, 2022
Furkan and the other cadets were initially handed down aggravated life sentences by the court on charges of violating the constitution, but their sentences were later reduced to life in prison for good behavior during the trial.
During their trial, the cadets denied taking part in the coup attempt and said they were only acting on orders from their superiors, who told them there was a terrorist attack.
The cadets said the only surprising thing on July 15, 2016 was an unplanned morning visit by then-Air Forces Commander Gen. Abidin Ünal to their training camp in Yalova.
Turkish media reported claims that during a speech to cadets in Yalova on July 15, Ünal underlined the importance of carrying out the orders of their commanders.
Columnist Ahmet Nesin wrote on the Artıgerçek news website that during his unplanned visit Ünal told the commander of the camp to cancel all training activities in the afternoon: “He told the commander ‘Don’t tire the boys out; they’ll get tired this evening’.”
A total of 259 military cadets were detained on coup charges on July 16, 2016 and were arrested four days later. The cadets were indicted a year after they were put in pretrial detention, and their trial was concluded in 2018. One hundred seventy-eight of the cadets were given life sentences on charges of attempting to overturn the constitutional order and attempting to overthrow the government and parliament by use of force as well as membership in a terrorist organization.
Immediately after the abortive putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the faith-based Gülen movement. The movement strongly denies any involvement.