Court releases 48 more air force academy students jailed on coup charges

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Air Force Academy in İstanbul

An Ankara court on Monday ruled to release 48 Air Force Academy students who have been in pre-trial detention on coup participation charges.

The cadets are the remaining members of a group of students who were arrested after July 15, 2016 on charges of attempting to eliminate the constitutional order, attempting to overthrow the Turkish government and the Parliament by use of force and membership in a terror organization.

On Feb. 1, the court decided to release 51 students from the Air Force Academy who were arrested in the aftermath of a failed coup attempt on July 15 due to alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement. Another Ankara court on Jan. 24 had also released 43 other Air Force Academy students who were arrested following a July 15 coup attempt.

The trial of the students will begin in May in which they face three consecutive life sentences in addition to a jail term of from seven years six months up to 15 years in prison.

The court’s decision to release the students came in the wake of the emergence of new evidence sent to the court by the Air Forces Command and the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.

The prosecutor’s office told the court that the investigation into the students showed they did not download the smart phone application known as ByLock to their mobile phones.

Turkish prosecutors believe ByLock is the top communication tool among followers of the Gülen movement. Thousands of people have been arrested simply for using this application.

Turkey experienced a military coup attempt on July 15 that killed over 240 people and wounded more than a thousand others. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement despite the lack of any evidence to that effect.

Although the Gülen movement strongly denies having any role in the putsch, the government accuses it of having masterminded the foiled coup. Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, called for an international investigation into the coup attempt, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

In the currently ongoing post-coup purge, over 135,000 people, including thousands within the military, have been purged due to their real or alleged connection to the Gülen movement, according to a statement by the labor minister on Jan. 10. As of Feb. 1, 89,775 people were being held without charge, with an additional 43,885 in pre-trial detention

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