ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A trial opened on Monday in Turkey's capital for 221 suspects, including 27 former generals, accused of being the instigators of last summer's failed military coup.
The main defendants are Gen. Akin Ozturk, a former air force commander, and other alleged members of the so-called Peace at Home Council — a group on whose behalf a coup declaration was read on state television.
Other defendants include the former military aide to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as well as the brother of a ruling party legislator.
The suspects face life prison terms if found guilty of charges that include attempting to destroy the government and the parliament, leading an armed terror group, attempting to assassinate the president and killing some 250 people, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, wanted by Turkey for allegedly orchestrating the coup, is also named among the defendants of the high-profile trial and will be tried in absentia along with eight other defendants who are on the run. Gulen has denied any involvement in the coup attempt.
The trial is taking place in a courthouse and prison complex in the outskirts of Ankara that was built especially for this trial. Security was tight, with snipers standing guard on rooftops and a drone flying overhead.
The suspects were forced to walk along a lane toward the courthouse, held by military police officers on each arm and each protected by a commando officer. As they walked by, pro-government protesters called for the death penalty to be reinstated and for the defendants to be hanged even though the capital punishment is unlikely to be applied retroactively.
Some held up banners that demanded "the death penalty on behalf of the martyrs of the July 15 coup" while others shouted "traitors!" A rope used for hanging was thrown at one of the defendants, Anadolu reported.
In a related development, Amnesty International released a report on Monday criticizing Turkey's government for dismissing tens of thousands of public sector employees following the coup, saying the massive crackdown had left teachers, academics, doctors, police officers and soldiers branded as "terrorists" and unable to make a living. It has called on Turkey to end the arbitrary dismissals, saying they have had devastating effects on the individuals and their families.
More than 100,000 public servants have been dismissed and banned from the civil service through decrees issued under the state of emergency for alleged connections to Gulen and other groups listed as terror organizations. More than 47,000 people have also been arrested for alleged links to the coup.
The government says the purge is necessary to weed out Gulen's followers.