ANKARA - A Turkish court on Wednesday handed life sentences to two ageing generals behind a 1980 military takeover, the bloodiest in Turkey’s coup-ridden history. Kenan Evren, 96, and Tahsin Sahinkaya, 89, were found guilty of setting the stage for a military intervention, ousting the civilian government by force and committing acts against the forces of the state.
Prosecutors had demanded so-called aggravated life sentences for Evren, who became president after the coup, and Sahinkaya, the former air force commander. The ruling sparked cheers and applause from the public gallery inside the courtroom, who chanted: “This is just the beginning, the coup authors will pay the price”. The generals seized power on September 12, 1980 but were only brought to trial for their role in the coup in 2012, after the ruling Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party introduced constitutional changes.
Evren and Sahinkaya, who are being treated at military hospitals in Ankara and Istanbul respectively, appeared via video screens for Wednesday’s hearing.
The two have been unable to attend any hearings because of their poor heath.
In his first testimony in 2012, Evren had said he had no remorse over his actions and that he did “the right thing to do at that time”.
Outside the Ankara court, a crowd of about 200 protesters had called for the case’s two surviving defendants to be severely punished.
Turkey’s once-powerful army, which considers itself the self-appointed guardian of the secular regime, has staged three coups since 1960, and forced out an Islamist government in 1997.
The 1980 coup was the bloodiest in Turkey’s post-war history, with 50 people executed while dozens died from torture. Some 600,000 were arrested and many others went missing.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has spent the best part of his 11 years in power trying to curb the military’s influence through a series of trials, one of which resulted in more than 300 military officers being put behind bars for alleged coup plots.
Erdogan has sought to mend fences with the army as he fights for political survival in a bitter feud with his ally-turned-opponent Fethullah Gulen, whom he accuses of masterminding a graft scandal to try to topple him.
In January, Turkey’s military demanded a retrial for army officers convicted of plotting to topple the government, claiming the evidence was fabricated.
In a gesture towards the army, parliament in February abolished specially-appointed courts that convicted dozens of army officers, paving the way for retrials.