ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A Turkish court sentenced several military and civilian personnel at an air base to life prison sentences Thursday, proclaiming them guilty of involvement in a failed coup attempt in 2016, the state-run news agency reported.
A total of 475 defendants, including generals and fighter jet pilots at the Akinci air base, on the outskirts of the capital Ankara, were on trial for the past three years, accused of directing the coup and bombing key government buildings, including a section of the parliament building.
The massive trial was one of two main trials against suspected members of a network led by U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating the failed attempt.
Gulen, who was also named among the defendants, has denied involvement in the coup that resulted in around 220 deaths and injured thousands. About 30 coup-plotters were also killed.
The court convicted four men — civilians accused of being the go-between Gulen’s movement and some military officers — of crimes against the state, attempts to kill the president and murder, and sentenced them to 79 separate life sentences, the Anadolu Agency reported.
At least 21 defendants — pilots and commanders — were also given life sentences, Anadolu reported. Sentences for other defendants were still being read out.
The court ruled for Gulen, an alleged top operative in his movement, and four other defendants still wanted by the Turkish authorities to be tried separately over the charges.
Prosecutors accused the coup-plotters of using Akinci air base as their headquarters. Turkey’s then military chief, Gen. Hulusi Akar, who is the current defense minister, and other commanders were held captive for several hours at the base on the night of the coup.
The prosecutors charged the defendants with attempts against the state and the constitutional order, an attempt to assassinate the president, leading a terrorist organization and murder, among other charges.
The trial, which opened on Aug. 1, 2017, was part of a post-coup crackdown that has imprisoned around 77,000 people and seen another 130,000 fired from their government jobs.
On the opening day, dozens of the defendants were paraded into the courthouse handcuffed, with two paramilitary police officers on each arm, as some protesters threw stones and shouted “Murderers!”