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35 military cadets released in coup retrial after 7-year imprisonment

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A high criminal court in İstanbul has released 35 former air force cadets who were retried over incidents that took place in Sultanbeyli on the night of a coup attempt in 2016, the Kronos news website reported.

The military cadets, who had stood trial on coup charges, had initially been given life sentences, but the verdicts were overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeals last year.

The defendants, who were retried at the İstanbul 28th High Criminal Court on Wednesday, were sentenced to 10-and-a-half years and were released considering the seven years they had already spent behind bars. They were also prohibited from leaving the country.

The cadets were accused of exiting their military bus and toppling a vehicle at the Sultanbeyli toll booths on the night of the coup attempt, which was suppressed overnight and claimed the lives of 251 people. The cadets said they did not take part in the abortive putsch, had no knowledge of it and wanted to help civilians in the area.

There were 122 defendants in the trial, and the top court overturned the sentences of 116 air force academy cadets with its decision in June 2022, which led to relief among the families of the cadets as well as rights activists who have been saying for years that the cadets were jailed unjustly. The 116 cadets had been convicted of attempting to overturn the constitutional order.

The cadets were retried in groups.

In early March the court also handed down a prison sentence of 15 years to each of 15 air force cadets as part of the same trial.

The cadets were initially handed down aggravated life sentences on charges of violating the constitution, but their sentences were later reduced to life in prison for good behavior during the trial.

During their trial, the cadets denied taking part in the coup attempt and said they were only acting on orders from their superiors, who told them there was a terrorist attack.

The cadets said the only surprising thing on July 15, 2016 was an unplanned morning visit by then-Air Force Commander Gen. Abidin Ünal to their training camp in Yalova.

Turkish media reported claims that during a speech to cadets in Yalova on July 15, Ünal underlined the importance of carrying out the orders of their commanders.

Columnist Ahmet Nesin wrote on the Artı Gerçek news website that during his visit Ünal told the commander of the camp to cancel all training activities in the afternoon, quoting him as saying, “Don’t tire the boys out; they’ll get tired this evening.”

A total of 259 military cadets were detained on coup charges on July 16, 2016 and were arrested four days later. The cadets were indicted a year after they were put in pretrial detention, and their trial was concluded in 2018. One hundred seventy-eight of the cadets were given life sentences on charges of attempting to overturn the constitutional order and attempting to overthrow the government and parliament by use of force as well as membership in a terrorist organization.

Immediately after the abortive putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the faith-based Gülen movement. The movement strongly denies any involvement.

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