Turkish Court Sentences 70 Cadets to Life in Prison Over 2016 Coup

The revanchist mood that swept through Turkey’s politicized legal landscape taints the very notion of justice. Handing life sentences to 70 cadets over the 2016 coup is the latest proof.

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As entire Turkey is locked in a prolonged political debate over the merits of troop deployment in Libya, the afterlife of the 2016 coup still continues to devour many lives on dubious legal grounds. On Friday, 70 Air Force cadets were sentenced to life in prison over the charge of coup involvement.

But for any sane observer, the legal rationale presented by judges is no less than a travesty of justice. Shifting the onus of the entire coup whose true nature still eludes us on a group of young cadets is nothing less than a blatant miscarriage of justice. Ahmet Nesin, an exiled Turkish journalist who worked hard like a self-employed sleuth to unravel the mystery surrounding the coup, dismissed the court ruling as a farce. This verdict, he reasoned, only serves to amplify the already existed suspicion over the government’s own role to facilitate the premature insurrection in a controlled fashion in order to advance its own political agenda in the aftermath of the coup.

None of the students took part in violence, the left-leaned ArtiGercek news portal wrote. But still, this did not save them from what seems to be the political wrath.

The Friday verdict brings the total number of military officers, who received life sentences over coup-related charges, to more than 400. But the particular case of cadets and soldiers is molesting the conscience of people who have witnessed how trials have proceeded since 2016 amid the breakdown of judicial independence and basic parameters of rule of law in the country.

Lawmaker Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, who is in the vanguard of defending the rights of purge victims since his election to Parliament two years ago, has written off the court verdict as mockery.

“These rulings are against the law.!

They were (as if) tried on grounds devoid of substance and legality. What emerged at the end was an extra-judicial (execution).

Can a young student take a coup decision..!?” he wrote, questioning the legal rationale that shaped the verdict.

The way how the state-run Anadolu news agency framed the rulings reflects the official stance regarding post-coup trials. The language reveals that students, no matter how insignificant or minor their roles might be during coup night, were regarded as perpetrators of the coup in the same fashion along with high-ranking commanders.

On July 15, 2016, Turkey was rattled by an ill-fated putsch. A group of rogue troops unsuccessfully tried to remove President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from power. But the majority of the army remained loyal to the government, dooming the prospect of success for coup plotters who were eventually defeated by government supporters after some bloody skirmishes.

The abortive insurrection landed a windfall on President Erdogan’s front. He unleashed a massive purge in the Turkish Armed Forces in an effort to reshape NATO’s second-largest army in his image. But the debilitating purge and the subsequent breakdown of trust among the politicized army leadership appear to have seriously dented Turkey’s military efficiency.

The institutional transformation aside, the trials against privates and cadets continue to be an abiding source of grievance and lamentation among aggrieved families. The latest decision came as a devastating blow to 70 cadets who were only recently re-imprisoned after starting their lives from scratch following the initial steps of arrest and purge in the hectic moments of the post-coup era in 2016.

Some of them launched new business ventures, while many tried to enroll at a college for a new career. But their lives were upended for a second time when a court decided to send them into jail at a hearing late last year.

Without hesitation, they heeded the call of authorities to attend the hearing. But they were imprisoned again. On Friday, the court in Istanbul sealed their fate, making that imprisonment permanent in jail by handing life sentences.

Are Cadets Responsible for 2016 Putsch?

More than three and half years after the notorious coup that rattled an entire nation and unleashed the demons of authoritarian rule, the debate over ‘whodunit’ never loses its relevance. Month after month, subscribers to different theories conjure up new ones, peddle new explanatory schemes to resolve the riddling puzzle of Turkey’s bloodiest coup to date. As long as the government deploys all powers at its disposal to squelch any public questioning of its role in the way how the events transpired on that fateful day, a healthy degree of skepticism is warranted against the flawed official narrative riddled with selective omissions and cherry-picking of the actors and dynamics that drove the putsch.

New reports by independent and critical journalists living abroad document in detail that the government most probably had knowledge in advance about an impending coup and allowed it to prematurely happen after ensuring its failure by twists and back-channel maneuverings to shift allegiances of some commanders. According to EU officials, international observers and journalists, the purge lists were prepared in advance. This point has been vindicated by many journalists.

Apart from the controversial aspects of the coup, there is almost a universal consensus among the public that the post-coup trials are far from being fair and just. The lack of fairness and legal absurdity have once again been confirmed on Friday. Another point upon which there is a wide agreement is the case of cadets and soldiers. Few in the public buy the government’s narrative portraying them as the major culprits behind the coup.

Still, it has no impact on how courts make their decisions. For all the talk, the public sympathy, however, does not extend beyond a faint display of subtle compassion when it comes to the case of cadets.

A judge-turned-journalist fumed on Twitter. Lamenting the decision, the journalist recalled that many of the cadets were only 18 years old when the coup took place. And the responsibility of that cursed day is entirely left to them, she retorted.

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