MUGLA, Turkey (Reuters) – A Turkish court started issuing verdicts on Wednesday in the trial of some 40 soldiers accused of attempting to kill President Tayyip Erdogan during last year’s coup, with the first defendants declared guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
The judge read out guilty verdicts for the first several defendants, according to a Reuters reporter at the court in Mugla, southwestern Turkey. Mugla is near the luxury resort where Erdogan and his family narrowly escaped a team of rogue soldiers who stormed his hotel during the night of the coup.
The trial, which started in February, is part of the sweeping crackdown that followed last year’s failed putsch and is the biggest such case to reach a verdict so far.
The court heard final statements from the defendants just before Emirsah Bastog, the main judge, began handing down his verdict. Some of the accused said they did not believe the court could deliver a fair verdict, saying it was under political pressure.
“From the moment I was arrested at the air base on July 16, I was treated like a criminal,” Ergun Sahin, a former air force lieutenant, told the court.
Pictures released in the aftermath of the coup showed some suspected coup plotters – including high-ranking military officers – stripped to their underpants, handcuffed and their faces bruised.
“Words don’t mean anything here as we didn’t have chance to a fair trial,” said another defendant, Gokhan Sen. “We are just the grass that elephants trampled on during their fight.”
More than 240 people were killed on the night of July 15 last year, when putschists commandeered tanks, warplanes and helicopters, attacking parliament and attempting to overthrow the government.
The government blames the network of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan. Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, has denied involvement and condemned the coup.
A total of 47 defendants were on trial, 43 of whom have been held in detention during the 7-1/2 month hearing. Gulen was being tried in absentia. Most of the defendants were soldiers.
Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Dominic Evans