ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A Turkish court sentenced 72 defendants to life in prison on Thursday for their role in killing 34 people after seizing control of a suspension bridge in Istanbul two years ago during an attempted coup, state media said.
The court sentenced the 72 defendants, who included a colonel and major in the Turkish military, for “attempting to destroy constitutional order” and sentenced another 27 defendants to more than 15 years in prison for helping that effort, according to state-run Anadolu agency.
The defendants in the case were also originally charged with deliberately killing civilians who heeded a call from President Tayyip Erdogan to challenge the coup plotters after they closed off the bridge across the Bosphorus Strait.
The verdicts come as Turkey prepares to commemorate the anniversary of the July 15, 2016 coup attempt on Sunday, and as Erdogan celebrates his recent election victory, which makes him the first holder of a new, all-powerful executive presidency.
The Istanbul bridge, renamed the “July 15 Martyrs’ Bridge”, was a flashpoint on the night of the coup. Victims included Erol Olcok, an advertiser who ran political campaigns for Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and his 17-year-old son.
Turkey has detained 160,000 people since then in a crackdown targeting soldiers, academics and civil servants suspected of links to Fethullah Gulen, the Muslim cleric whom Ankara blames for the failed coup, and dismissed nearly the same number of employees, the U.N. human rights office said in March.
Of those detained, some 77,000 have been formally charged and kept in jail during their trials, the interior minister said in April.
Erdogan’s critics accuse him of using the failed putsch as a pretext to quash dissent. Turkey says the measures are necessary to combat threats to national security.
Turkish media have been flooded with programmes commemorating the thwarting of the coup, with television stations showing footage of soldiers who participated surrendering, stripped of their clothes and weapons, and headscarved women squaring off against tanks in the street.
Reporting by Julia Harte; Editing by David Dolan and Dominic Evans