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Turkey’s biggest trial underway

August 1, 2017 | Expert Insights

Nearly 500 people involved in a failed coup to overthrow the Turkish government in 2016, are set to go on trial.

The country will be witnessing its largest trial with 486 suspects charged with various crimes.


Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is the current President of Turkey. Having held this position since 2014, he was previously the Prime Minister of the country from 2003 to 2014. Prior to that, he was the Mayor of Istanbul from 1994 to 1998.  

He has been criticized for ushering an authoritarian government in the country. More journalists have been incarcerated in Turkey than any other nation in the world. His government in 2013 began with a police crackdown that resulted in the deaths of 22 people thus lending further credence to criticism about authoritarianism.

The coup

On July 2016, there was an attempted coup against state institutions, the government and the president. When the coup was declared, the president was on vacation in a seaside resort town. A fraction of the military took over and declared martial law and a curfew. They also said that a new constitution would be instated. Erdogan appealed to his supporters to protest.

The coup largely failed because it did not have the public’s support. Even opposition parties condemned the coup, thus effectively ending it. Groups of soldiers began their surrender. It is still unclear as to who was ultimately responsible. The Turkish government has placed the blame on Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Muslim cleric but he has denied any involvement. The government has arrested close to 6,000 people in connection to the coup.

Around 300 people were killed during the attempt.


A courtroom has been built for the purpose of trying those charged with the coup. It is located outside the capital Ankara. According to the state-run news agency Anadolu, the charges range from murder to violation of the constitution. Individuals will also be tried for attempting to the kill the President. Currently 461 are in custody and seven of the individuals are on the run. The rest, who were arrested in connection to the coup, are in prison but they have not been charged with any crime yet.

Gulen is among the main suspects named in the indictment. He is at present on a self-imposed exile in a secluded compound in the United States. Theology lecturer Adil Oksuz and Akin Ozturk, a former Air Force Chief, are also in custody.


Our assessment is that the Turkish President is more powerful than ever before. In April, Erdogan declared himself a winner in a nationwide referendum and granted himself authority over judiciary and the ability to make law by decree. The office of the Prime Minister and the parliamentary system were essentially abolished. With this kind of power vested in the hands of the President, it is unlikely that those charged will be subjected to a fair democratic trial.