A Turkish court sentenced more than 300 military officers to jail on Friday for plotting to overthrow Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan almost a decade ago, ending a trial that underscored civilian dominance over the once all-powerful military.
The court in Silivri, just west of Istanbul, handed prison terms to 322 serving and retired army officers and acquitted 34, according to court documents seen by Reuters.
Two retired generals and a retired admiral considered the ringleaders of the so-called “Sledgehammer” plot to topple Erdogan in 2003 were given life terms. Their relatives collapsed in tears in the courtroom as the sentences were handed down.
The military has launched three coups between 1960 and 1980 and pressured an Islamist-led government to quit in 1997.
But Erdogan’s AK Party, which came to power a decade ago, has tamed military influence over policy-making and ministerial appointments as part of efforts to strengthen democracy, while prosecutors have pursued suspected coup-makers through the courts.
“To comment without seeing the reasons for the verdict would be inappropriate. There is an appeals process. What is important for us is that the right decision emerges,” Erdogan told reporters in Ankara, as the sentences were being announced.
The court said the three sentenced to life would in fact only serve 20 years because they were unsuccessful in their bid to topple the government.
The “Sledgehammer” conspiracy is alleged to have included plans to bomb historic mosques in Istanbul and trigger conflict with Greece to pave the way for an army takeover.
Prosecutors had demanded 15 to 20-year jail sentences for the 365 defendants, 364 of whom were serving or retired officers.
Those sentenced to life included retired generals Cetin Dogan and Halil Ibrahim Firtina, and retired admiral Ozden Ornek, considered the ringleaders of the plot.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 22nd, 2012.