Tuesday, August 1, 2017

'Traitors, filth, murderers': Turkish protesters berate accused in mass coup trial

Protesters throw nooses at line of 468 defendants, including 41 ranking officers, as they are led into first day of coup trial in Ankara
Suraj Sharma's picture
Suraj Sharma-Tuesday 1 August 2017

ISTANBUL, Turkey – Cries of "traitor" and "murderer" rang out and nooses were thrown in their path as 41 former high-ranking military officers were marched single file and in handcuffs to a custom-built courthouse on Tuesday, when one of the biggest trials in Turkish history got under way.
The 41 are the most high-ranking among 486 former military staff put on trial for their alleged role in a botched coup attempt carried out last July, which left 249 civilians dead and more than 2,000 wounded.
Most of the 486 on trial in Ankara’s Sincan district were based at the Akinci air force base located in the district, and which was the operations centre during the coup attempt. Others on trial are former officers from military bases in Adana and Incirlik where refuelling aircraft took off during the putsch.   
Flanked on both sides by gendarmes and also by fully armed crack units of the Turkish armed forces, the 41 suspects were marched single file to the 1,500 person-capacity courthouse built last year specifically for this trial.
Up front was Kemal Batmaz, a businessman known as the civilian imam at Akinci, followed by Akin Ozturk, a former four-star general. The defendants on Tuesday included pilots who bombed the capital Ankara last July.
General Akin Ozturk on 17 July, 2016 after his arrest (AA)
Adil Oksuz, a theology lecturer considered to be the primary Gulenist at the Akinci base, remains on the run. He was initially taken into custody right after the coup attempt but was subsequently released.
Authorities hold Fethullah Gulen and his followers embedded in various state institutions responsible for the coup attempt.
Gulen, a US-based Turkish Islamic preacher, denies the charge.
More than 50,000 people have so far been arrested for their involvement with Gulen, with more than 7,000 military personnel among them.
This trial, frequently called the Akinci trial, is expected to last for at least a year. The indictment alone prepared by the Ankara chief prosecutor’s office is 4,058 pages.
Metal fences were erected to keep hundreds of angry protesters from physically attacking the defendants. The protesters included relatives of those killed or wounded during the coup attempt.
Police had to stop protesters from attempting to scale the fences.
You cannot exist as long as our race exists. You can have no haven. You will drown in your own filth
- member of public in court
Along with the nooses thrown at the defendants amid cries of traitor, the crowd also waved orange jumpsuits protesting the civilian attire the defendants were allowed to wear.
The idea of Guantanamo Bay-style orange jumpsuits was first mooted by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on 15 July after one defendant in a related case appeared at a hearing wearing a t-shirt that had the word 'Hero' printed on the front.
Tensions carried over into the court itself as relatives of the victims traded barbs with the defendants’ lawyers.
One man believed to be a relative of a civilian who was killed shouted: "You cannot exist as long as our race exists. You can have no haven. You will drown in your own filth."
The lawyers of the defendants banged their desks in protest at such remarks.  
Protesters outside the court hold placards saying the AKP is watching the case (AFP)
Selfet Giray, the chief judge hearing the case, warned that he would have to eject some people from the room if calm was not maintained.
"We are judging here in the name of the Turkish nation and on the basis of the law of the republic of Turkey," he said.
"We understand your pain and rage but those unable of standing it should leave.
"Everyone should abide by the court’s rules for us to be able to conduct a healthy trial."
Of the 486 people on trial, 461 are currently incarcerated in nearby Sincan prison, 18 are being tried without being held and seven are fugitives.
More than 1,000 gendarmerie forces were assigned to provide security in the courthouse and the vicinity on Tuesday.
Air defence systems, snipers, sniffer dogs, drones, armoured vehicles and water cannon vehicles were also deployed.
Observers from the presidency, the ruling Justice and Development Party and the opposition Republican People’s Party were present at the hearing.
Families of the victims have been calling for the death sentence for the coup plotters. Erdogan has backed their demand, repeatedly saying he will sign off on a law restoring the death penalty if put in front of him.
Turkey abolished the death penalty in 2004.
The hearings for this batch of defendants are expected to continue until 29 August.