29 cops on trial in Istanbul over coup

They allegedly refused to protect Turkish President's home on the night of the putsch

ISTANBUL • More than two dozen Turkish police officers went on trial in Istanbul yesterday, charged with involvement in the July 15 coup.

It is the city's first trial of alleged putschists in the massive crackdown that followed the failed bid to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. With some 41,000 suspects under arrest in a state of emergency, the nationwide trials of the accused are set to be the most far-reaching legal process in Turkish history.

Five months after the coup, small-scale trials of suspects have begun in the provinces. But the Istanbul trial - in a gigantic courthouse outside the Silivri prison - is the most significant to date.

The accused are charged with seeking to overthrow the government as well as being members of a group led by US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, who is said by the authorities to be the leader of the plot. Ankara wants to extradite him from the United States while he has vehemently denied the charges.

The trial got under way with the reading out of the names of the accused and judge Fikret Demir reading the indictment, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.

This was expected to be followed by arguments for the defence. Initial hearings are expected to last until Friday. Amid tight security, special forces in camouflage gear stood guard outside the courthouse.

Of the 29 police officers who were set to go on trial in Silivri yesterday, 24 are under arrest, one on the run and the rest on bail. If convicted, 21 of the suspects face three life sentences each while the others could be handed prison terms of between 71/2 and 15 years.

Those accused are alleged to have refused to protect Mr Erdogan's residence in Istanbul on the night of the coup.

"We will make sure the guilty - within the framework of the law - are punished and given the most heavy punishment possible," said lawyer Orhan Cagri Bekar, head of the July 15 Association, which represents victims of the coup.

However, there has been growing global alarm over the extent of the crackdown, with critics concerned that it has been used to target Mr Erdogan's opponents. With the crackdown showing no sign of relenting, the Interior Ministry said 1,096 people suspected of links with Mr Gulen had been held in the last week alone.

The coup plotters killed 248 people, according to the presidency, and Mr Erdogan has said there are strong public demands for retribution even extending to reimposing the death penalty.

Mr Erdogan last week said the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Ankara was carried out by a Turkish policeman loyal to Mr Gulen, a claim not accepted by Moscow. He said the allies of Mr Gulen - who over decades had built up networks of influence within Turkish institutions - still needed to be weeded out of the security services.

Following the start of the Istanbul trial, several others will get under way in the coming months, including that of the alleged military ringleaders in Ankara.

The Silivri courthouse has huge resonance for Turks; it was used in trials against suspects in 2013 accused of a coup plot known as Ergenekon. In that case, 275 police officers, journalists, lawyers and academics were indicted for allegedly conspiring to oust Mr Erdogan.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 28, 2016, with the headline '29 cops on trial in Istanbul over coup'. Print Edition | Subscribe