Turkish Court Overturns Life Sentences For Soldiers Over Coup

A generation of Turkey’s military students, who were sentenced to life in prison over plotting a controversial coup, may finally see the light at the end of the tunnel after years of a desperate quest for justice.

An archive picture shows a group of Air Force trainees in police custody after a coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

Monday, Turkey’s Supreme Court overturned life sentences given to 37 soldiers for their role in the invasion of state-run Turkish Radio and Television building during the July 15 coup attempt in 2016.

The decision came as a sigh of relief and a renewed hope for hundreds of other military students, trainees, and privates who believe that they were disproportionately punished and wrongfully prosecuted for high-profile crimes such as coup-plotting, while some senior generals got lenient sentences.

The court reversed the lower court’s verdict on the charge of “attempting to topple the constitutional order” by soldiers in the trial. The Supreme Court decision may set a precedent and pave the way for the release of hundreds of privates and military trainees.

Even before the fog of mystery dissipated and a meaningful investigation took off the ground, Turkey’s political authorities were quick to point out the plotters of the ill-fated attempt that killed 250 people and changed the course of history in Turkish politics.

Amid a sweeping purge and ferocious witch-hunt, courts indiscriminately rained down life sentences to members of the mutinous troops regardless of the nature of their roles in the botched coup, treating generals and ordinary conscripts in the same way.

As a New York Times article recently demonstrated, trainees, students, and cadets were not spared from the kind of disproportionate punishment (life sentences) that was mostly reserved for generals, as if they were the real instigators of the controversial putsch.

Hundreds of students were sentenced to life in prison over the charge of “coup involvement and attempting to overthrow a democratically elected government and constitutional order.” Judges disregarded abundant evidence suggesting that they only followed orders from superiors on the night of the mutiny by a small fraction of the Turkish troops.

Refusing to sink into resignation and despair, families have embarked on an arduous and protracted battle for justice since then. They’ve been fighting an uphill battle in a country where odds were heavily stacked against them. The political context, the politicized courts, the blinding silence of media, and the fear of civil society offered no prospect for justice or remedy in the domestic realm.

Earlier this year, the United Nations stepped in and urged Turkey to release the students and trainees in a decision.

The Supreme Court’s Monday ruling comes as belated but welcoming progress to correct an enormous wrong that ruined the lives of hundreds of promising, young men. After years of unjust imprisonment, they finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Virginia-based journalist and writer. Politics, culture, art, and technology. American political affairs, Turkey, the MidEast, and beyond. Twitter: @abyasun

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