The Cable

First Major Trials Begin for the Failed Turkey Coup

But post-coup crackdowns that worry international observers continue unabated.

turkey-coup

On Tuesday, 29 Turkish police officers were put to trial in Istanbul over their alleged involvement in last July’s failed coup plot against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. They’re also accused of allegedly working with Turkish cleric-in-exile Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally who fell out of favor with the president and is now living in Pennsylvania.

It’s the first big tranche of Turkish authorities to go to trial among nearly 41,000 police, military and government officials, and civil servants who are accused of being linked to the coup — a crackdown that has many international observers worried about the fate of Turkey’s crumbling democratic institutions and rule of law. It’s also expected to be the most extensive legal process in Turkish history and is aimed to get to the bottom of the failed coup that led to nearly 250 deaths.

Smaller-scale trials have already begun in southwest Turkey, but this is the first high-profile trial. Of the 29 suspects in Istanbul, 21 face three life in prison while eight would be sentenced to up to 15 years behind bars.

Many leaders from fellow NATO ally nations, including the United States, worry Erdogan used the failed coup’s aftermath and crackdowns to consolidate power. Washington has so far rebuffed Turkish calls to extradite Gulen to face trial in Turkey, saying Ankara did not supply enough evidence to prove the cleric was behind the coup. But Erdogan’s been accusing Gulen of more crimes in recent weeks; he was quick to blame the Dec. 19 assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey on the Gulenist movement. Russia has not yet accepted those claims.

Meanwhile, Turkish authorities continue to be sensitive about insults or slights against their president. On Monday, the boss of a cafeteria at newspaper Cumhuriyet’s offices said he would refuse to serve tea to Erdogan. He was promptly detained by police and, if convicted, could face four years in prison for insulting the president.

Cumhuriyet and other Turkish media outlets that have been critical of Erdogan faced sharp reprisals in the post-coup crackdown. In November, 10 Cumhuriyet staff were detained, accused by Turkish officials of supporting Gulen and Kurdish militants while its former editor-in-chief, Can Dundar, fled to Germany. Reporters Without Borders this year gave Turkey a low ranking — 151 of 180 countries — of national press freedoms, including behind Tajikistan, South Sudan, and Zimbabwe.

Photo credit: OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. @robbiegramer

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