ISTANBUL: Almost 30 Turkish police went on trial in Istanbul on Tuesday charged with involvement in the July 15 coup, 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 coup 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 already begun in the provinces and on Monday 60 people went on trial in the southwestern city of Denizli.
But the trial in Istanbul – taking place in a gigantic courthouse outside the Silivri prison in Istanbul – is the most significant to date and the first in the Turkish metropolis.
The accused are charged with seeking to overthrow the government as well as allegedly being members of the group led by US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen who the authorities accuse of leading the plot.
Gulen, who Ankara wants to see extradited from the United States, vehemently denies 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 set to go on trial in Silivri on Tuesday, 24 are under arrest, one on the run and the rest on bail.
If convicted, 21 suspects each face three life sentences and the other eight officers could be handed prison terms of between seven-and-a-half and 15 years.
Those accused are alleged to have refused to protect 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 international alarm over the extent of the crackdown amid the state of emergency imposed after the coup, with critics concerned it has been used to target Erdogan’s opponents.
With the crackdown showing no sign of relenting, the interior ministry said 1,096 people suspected of Gulen links were detained in the last week alone.
The coup plotters killed 248 people, according to the presidency, and Erdogan has said there are strong public demands for retribution even extending to reimposing the death penalty.
Erdogan said last week that the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Ankara was carried out by a Turkish policeman loyal to Gulen, a claim not yet accepted by Moscow.
He said that allies of Gulen — who over decades built up strong networks of influence within Turkish institutions — still needed to be weeded out of the security services.
“This dirty organisation is still within the military, still within the police,” Erdogan said.
Following the start of the Istanbul trial, several others will get under way in the coming months including of the alleged military ringleaders in Ankara.
The trial of 47 suspects accused of trying to assassinate Erdogan at a holiday resort on the Aegean Sea is due to begin in Mugla on February 20.
The courthouse in Silivri has huge resonance for Turks after it was also used in trials against suspects in 2013 accused of a separate coup plot known as Ergenekon.
That case, which was strongly supported by Gulen, saw 275 police officers, journalists, lawyers and academics indicted for allegedly conspiring to oust Erdogan.
But the suspects were then released and their convictions quashed earlier this year, with the authorities accusing Gulen of perverting the legal process and fabricating evidence.