Erdogan vanquishes ghosts of coup: life sentence awarded to culprits

Turkish President Erdogan has finally vanquished the sceptre of the coup that rattled his administration in 2016 as a court has handed down life sentences to the culprits. While he has been successful in this endeavour, dissent is brewing at home over the infringement upon the right to freedom of speech.

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A Turkish court has handed down life sentences to 121 people found guilty of trying to overthrow the country’s president back in 2016. The failed coup has triggered a massive purge, with thousands of Turks being fired or jailed.

The verdicts were announced by the court in Ankara on Friday. It found the defendants guilty of attempting to “violate the constitution” three years ago.

Life sentence given to those guilty of Turkish coup attempt

Some 35 individuals were given a life sentence for the crime, while another 86 received “aggravated” imprisonment for life. One of the defendants, a former military colonel, has been given a whopping nine “aggravated” life terms, plus an additional 20 years for multiple counts of “deliberate murder.”

The “aggravated” version of the life sentence means tougher prison conditions for the convicted. It was introduced in Turkey in the early 2000s to replace the death penalty, which was abolished as a part of the country’s long-stalled drive to join the EU.

The botched July 2016 coup attempt, staged by elements within the military to try to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, resulted in the deaths of more than 250 people, putschists and loyalists alike. It also triggered a massive purge within both the military and the civil service, with more than 100,000 soldiers and public servants being fired or suspended from their jobs, and tens of thousands more detained.

The trials over the coup, which have been going on since 2017, have already resulted in some 2,000 people being put behind bars for life. Elusive US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, once Erdogan’s ally and now his arch-nemesis, has been named by Ankara as the mastermind behind the coup.

Was the coup the work of a terrorist organization?

According to the authorities, he staged it with the help of an allegedly vast network of plotters, referred to in Turkey as the ‘Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organization’ (FETO). No solid proof of the cleric’s involvement has emerged since 2016, however, and Gulen has always denied any involvement.

Read more: Turkey trial opens into Russian ambassador’s 2016 killing

Ankara has been at odds with Washington over Gulen for years, as the US has refused to hand over the rogue cleric. The botched coup only put more strain on the issue. The recent conviction of a Turkish employee of the US consulate for aiding a “terror group” provoked an angry reaction in the US, with the top officials demanding the conviction to “swiftly be overturned.”

Turkey’s foreign ministry responded by warning Washington to stay away from the country’s judicial system and even accused the US of becoming a “safe harbor” for “members of FETO terror organization.”

Turkish journalists jailed for life

A Turkish court on 16th Feb 2018 jailed three prominent journalists for life over links to the group blamed for the 2016 failed coup, a verdict that raised new alarm over freedom of expression under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Read more: Turkey court jails top writers for life over coup links

Nazli Ilicak and brothers Mehmet and Ahmet Altan – all veteran journalists and writers – were handed the life sentences at a trial in Istanbul over alleged connections to the outlawed group of US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.

Similar sentences were given to three other suspects.They were all convicted of seeking to usurp the constitutional order in Turkey. Gulen, who built up substantial influence in Turkey through media, education and banking interests before falling out with the authorities in 2013, denies having links to the coup bid.

The ruling came as Turkey freed German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel, a correspondent for daily newspaper Die Welt, who had been held for more than a year without charge in a separate case. According to the P24 press freedom group, there are 156 jailed journalists in Turkey, most of whom were held in the mass crackdown after the failed coup aimed at ousting Erdogan.

The International Press Institute (IPI) said it was “appalled” at the verdict, describing it as an “utter disregard for the rule of law.”

“This is a dark day for press freedom and for justice in Turkey,” said Gauri van Gulik, Europe Director for Amnesty International, adding the move had “drained the joy” from the Yucel release.

RT with additional input by GVS News Desk

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