Dozens in Turkey sentenced to life in prison for role in failed coup

A court in southwestern Turkey found 42 suspects guilty on Wednesday of charges that include attempting to kill President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during last year's failed coup, Turkish state television TRT reports.

Demonstrators threw eggs and plastic bottles at defendants as police escorted them from the courthouse

An unidentified soldier accused of attempting to assassinate Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on the night of the failed last year's July 15 coup, is escorted by gendarmes as he leaves from the final hearing of the trial in Mugla on Oct. 4. (Osman Orsal/Reuters)

A court in southwestern Turkey found 42 former soldiers guilty of charges that include attempting to kill President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during last year's failed coup, Turkish state television TRT reported.

Forty-seven suspects — 37 of them former military personnel — have been on trial since February in the city of Mugla accused of attempted assassination, violation of the Constitution and other crimes against the state during the July 15, 2016, coup attempt.

The defendants were accused of attacking the hotel in the resort of Marmaris where Erdogan was staying, killing two policemen. Erdogan had left the hotel shortly before it was stormed.

Turkey has blamed the coup on the movement led by U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose followers are accused of infiltrating the military and other state institutions. Gulen denies the charges.

Judge Emirsah Bastog read out guilty verdicts for 42 of the 47 defendants.

"I hope the verdict today is beneficial to everyone," Bastog said as he sentenced 34 of the accused to "aggravated" life sentences, the harshest punishment possible under Turkish law because it lengthens the minimum sentence required for parole.

Supporters of President Tayyip Erdogan wave Turkish flags during a trial for soldiers accused of attempting to assassinate the president on Wednesday. (Osman Orsal/Reuters)

Another six defendants were given life terms while two others were given lesser sentences.

"[Several] defendants have been found guilty on the charge of attempting to assassinate the president," Bastog told the packed courtroom.

One was acquitted, a former lieutenant-colonel, and another was transferred to another court. No verdict was given for three who were tried in absentia, including U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for orchestrating the coup.

The trial against Gulen, who was named as one of the defendants, and two other defendants who were on the run, will continue separately, TRT reported.

Defendants make statements

The defendants denied the charges, and some complained of an unfair trial while making their final statements before the verdicts were delivered, according to state-run Anadolu Agency.

"I believe the ruling will be a premature one. I want to be tried again in courts where the rule of law is upheld," the Anadolu news agency quoted former lieutenant Muhammet Burak Ipek as telling the court.

Some of the accused said they did not believe the court could deliver a fair verdict and had been 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.

Other defendants insisted they were obeying orders by their superiors, the agency reported.

Pelted with eggs

Demonstrators threw eggs and plastic bottles at the defendants as police escorted them from the courthouse. Others waved Turkish flags, blared a famous song praising Erdogan and called for a return to capital punishment. The court heard final statements from the defendants just before Bastog delivered his ruling. 

People shout at the soldiers involved in the coup attempt who eventually surrendered on Bosphorus bridge on July 16, 2016, in Istanbul. (Getty Images)

The trial was held at a trade centre that was turned into a temporary court because the courthouse is too small to hold such a high-profile case. The trial is one of several cases underway against alleged coup plotters across Turkey. 

More than 240 people were killed on the night of July 15, 2016, when putschists commandeered tanks, warplanes and helicopters, attacking parliament and attempting to overthrow the government.

With files from Reuters