Turkish Court Sentences 63 Cadets to Life in Prison Over Coup Charges
A Turkish court in Istanbul handed life sentences to 63 cadets from Air Force Academy and Ground Forces on the charge of coup involvement, sparking a widespread public reaction in social media over what they say disproportionate sentences.
Sixty-three cadets appeared at a hearing at Istanbul 28th High Criminal Court on Friday. They faced charges of coup involvement. For their last words before the final ruling, young students whose ages ranging from 18 to 21 told the court that they are innocent and they had no prior knowledge of the coup. And they said they only carried out the orders given to them.
In Istanbul and Ankara, hundreds of cadets were called by their commanders for a military exercise on July 15, 2016. Those cadets, unaware of an unfolding coup attempt, were found themselves at the center of a mayhem, and majority of them quickly surrendered themselves to police forces after realizing the true nature of the mission.
This, however, did not spare them from a lengthy legal prosecution and 19 months of detention. A number of cadets were lynched to death on Istanbul Bosporus bridge, a major scene of a skirmish between the coup plotters and the government supporters. And the rest of cadets, according to lawyers and families, saw torture at the hands of police and some military personnel.
The court sentenced 61 cadets, three of whom were female Air Force cadets, to life in prison while handing aggravated life sentences to two remaining ones.
Previously, 38 cadets have already received life terms in a separate case in February. The cases of cadets triggered public controversy over whom should be held responsible for the failed coup, which killed 246 people and wounded more than 2,000. Public opinion revolved around a consensus that plotting generals were the responsible one for the putsch, not young cadets who were believed to have no knowledge of the coup and who only carried out orders given by commanders.
“Seven-year [jail term] given to [coup-plotting] generals, but life sentences handed to conscripts and cadets,” main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker Eren Erdem said, offering a sharp rebuke of the court rulings.
Vicdan sahibi olan, mübarek Ramazan günü Allah korkusu olan her vicdana sesleniyorum!
Allah için sözümü dinleyin; “bugün askeri öğrenci ve 7 günlük erlere müebbet ceza verildi. Darbeci generallere 7 yıl, TUSCON üyelerine beraat. Parası olan serbest, bu ÇOCUKLARA müebbet! Adalet?”
— Eren Erdem (@erenerdemnet) May 18, 2018
In a subsequent tweet, he slammed the judges: “Dear judges, fear from God. These are just students, students! What can privates, students have anything to do with the coup? Those who are responsible are free. Real coup plotters are freely wandering outside. By handing life sentences to cadets, fighting the July 15 coup fascism would be impossible. It is a sin! It is a shame!”