SINCAN – The biggest trial of suspects accused of involvement in last year’s failed coup opened in Turkey on Tuesday in a courtroom specially built to hold more than 1,500 people.
Some 330 suspects are being put on trial in Sincan outside the capital Ankara, and if convicted, they face multiple life sentences over their alleged links to the attempted overthrow of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last July.
Over 240 of those named in the indictment are already in custody, state-run news agency Anadolu reported.
The suspects, many of them from the Polatli artillery and missile school command in Ankara, have been charged with murder or attempted murder.
They also stand accused of attempting to remove the Turkish republic’s government and parliament, or trying to prevent those institutions from conducting their work.
The case is being heard at Sincan prison where there was heavy security in place, with a water cannon truck on site and a drone flying overhead as families arrived for the hearing.
The courtroom — which has space for 1,558 people — was packed, with security forces surrounding the suspects as they testified.
On the night of July 15, hundreds of people stood outside the Polatli command base while thousands took to the streets in the district to stop the coup bid.
‘If needed, use weapons’
The first suspect, a military cadet called Abdulkadir Kahraman, told the court that on the night of the coup, troops were informed by their commander that there had been a terror attack and were given ammunition.
Other suspects gave similar statements, including Arif Ozan Demir who told the court the commander told them there had been an attack and that they should “be prepared”.
Some of the suspects added that a senior army officer told them to be prepared to use their weapons, Anadolu reported.
“The lieutenant-colonel said, ‘There is an attack outside, we will ensure the people’s security. We trained you for this day. If needed, use weapons’,” suspect Ahmet Tamur told the court.
The cadet added that some members of the public had attacked the soldiers while others helped protect them.
The suspects’ family members outside the prison told AFP they wanted justice.
Samet Oral urged the president to “watch our situation, to see how we are,” adding: “We only ask for justice.”
Sunduz Baykara said that some of the suspects were innocent of the charges and yet remained in custody.
“Even though our children didn’t shoot, even though they have been beaten up by the people, it has been now eight months they stand behind bars.”
Biggest legal process
Ankara has blamed the failed putsch on Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen — who lives in self-imposed exile in the United States — and his movement.
Turkey has denounced the movement as a terrorist organisation and the suspects on trial at Sincan are also accused of belonging to an armed terror group.
Chief of General Staff General Hulusi Akar is one of the complainants in the case along with Gendarmerie Forces Commander General Yasar Guler.
The hearing is one of several cases that have opened across the country this month, with 47 people going on trial in the western city of Mugla on charges of attempting to assassinate Erdogan.
Until now, the largest had been in the Aegean city of Izmir where 270 suspects went on trial late last month, among them Gulen, being tried in absentia.
Following the failed putsch, Ankara declared a state of emergency and began a widespread crackdown, placing more than 43,000 people in pre-trial detention.
The state of emergency remains in place as the trials get underway in the biggest legal process in the country’s history.
The first verdicts were handed down to a colonel and major last month when they were sentenced to life in jail in the northeastern city of Erzurum for violating the constitution.