220 alleged Turkey coup plotters go on trial as crowds outside court call for death penalty

Turkish special forces secure the area as arrested soldiers accused to be involved in an attempted coup d'etat arrive at the court inside the Sincan Prison, on May 22, 2017.
Turkish special forces secure the area as arrested soldiers accused to be involved in an attempted coup d'etat arrive at the court inside the Sincan Prison, on May 22, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

SINCAN, Turkey (AFP) - More than 220 suspects, including over two dozen former Turkish generals, went on trial on Monday (May 22), accused of being among the ringleaders of the attempted coup last year aimed at ousting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Furious protesters outside the court called for the death penalty for the accused and flung rope nooses at the defendants as they were paraded into court handcuffed and held by the security forces.

Turkey blames the attempted July 15 putsch on the US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, a claim he strongly denies, and has launched a relentless purge under a state of emergency against those deemed to have backed the plot.

Gulen is among 12 of the 221 suspects in the current trial who remain at large, with the remainder appearing in court for the first time inside a prison complex in Sincan outside Ankara.

The suspects were paraded into the courtroom by heavily armed security forces forming two columns in front of television cameras.

Dozens of protesters holding Turkish flags booed at the suspects, with placards saying: "For the martyrs and veterans of July 15, we want the death penalty."

"We want the death penalty, we don't want them to be fed and housed here. We want these traitors to be buried without any flag," said protester Cengiz Ozturk.

Turkey abolished the death penalty as part of its drive to join the European Union, but Erdogan has on occasion indicated it could be reimposed to deal with the coup plotters.

Twenty-six generals are among those charged, including former air force chief Akin Ozturk and Mehmet Disli, the brother of senior ruling party lawmaker Saban Disli.

Also on trial is colonel Ali Yazici, Erdogan's former military aide, and Lieutenant Colonel Levent Turkkan, who was the aide of Chief of Staff General Hulusi Akar.

The most prominent figure among the suspects, Ozturk was dressed crisply in a black sweater and held a blue file as he was led into the court.

His appearance contrasted with the last known image of him which showed him bearing injuries including a bandaged ear after his capture two days after the coup bid.

In a tense start to the trial, relatives of coup victims shouted, "Martyrs don't die, the motherland cannot be divided," a refrain often used by the public and politicians in tribute to those killed during the putsch.

A mother of one of those killed yelled at the suspects before she was taken away by force.

The case is being heard in Turkey's largest courtroom, which was purpose-built to hear coup-related trials and has space for 1,558 people.

There was heavy security in place, with a drone flying overhead and armoured security vehicles on site as well as snipers on the roof.

Almost 40 of those on trial are accused of being part of the "Peace At Home Council", the name the plotters are said to have given themselves on the night of the failed coup.

The charges against them include "violating the Constitution", "using coercion and violence in an attempt to overthrow" the Parliament and the Turkish government, "martyring 250 citizens" and "attempting to kill 2,735 citizens", Hurriyet daily reported on Sunday (May 21).

The attempted putsch left 248 people dead, according to the Turkish presidency, not including 24 coup-plotters killed on the night.

The trial is one of many being held across the country to judge the coup suspects in what is the biggest legal process of Turkey's modern history.

The vast Sincan courtroom hosted in February the opening of the trial of 330 suspects accused of murder or attempted murder on the night of July 15.

More than 47,000 people have been arrested on suspicion of links to the Gulen movement in an unprecedented crackdown under the state of emergency.