Trainees faced with same punishment as generals in failed coup trial – NY Times

The families of over a dozen trainee pilots sentenced to life in prison on charges of attempting to overthrow the government in the 2016 coup attempt are speaking up against what they call an grave injustice, the New York Times said on Saturday.

The 14 graduates of Turkey’s Air Force Academy happened to be at the Akıncı Air Base – the headquarters of coup plotters - on the night of July 15, 2016 to take English exam, it said, but were told to stand by to observe a counterterrorism operation that unfolded into the morning hours.

In November, 13 of the trainee pilots were sentenced to life in prison, 12 of them to “aggravated life,” which means they have no chance for parole.

 Around 300,000 people have so far been detained as part of a crackdown on the failed putsch, while courts have handed out more than 2,500 life sentences and over 20,000 people have been expelled from the military, according to Turkey’s defence ministry.

“We were not expecting them to be acquitted, to be honest, but we were expecting them to be released at least,” NY Times cited Kezban Kalin, whose son Alper, 30, was among those sentenced as saying. “But aggravated life?”

Kalın’s father pointed out that the trainees had received the same punishment as the generals accused of the same crime. 

“I want to emphasize the injustice. What did they do?” Ali Kalın said.

The trainee pilots had been largely unaware of what was going on, the NY Times said, citing their statements to investigators and in court, which the government challenged and could not be independently verified.

The group was subject to four and a half years of legal proceedings in the Akinci base trial with 500 defendants alongside senior military commanders.

As trainee officers, the group was still undergoing their education and could only take orders, not issue them, their lawyer said.

“Is it OK to darken the lives of that many people without discriminating between the innocent and the guilty?” Hatice Ceylan, whose son Burak, 29, is among the 13 trainees sentenced, told the NY Times. “They are just children. There are plenty like my son, rotting in jail.”