Turkey's former military chief was sentenced to life in prison and scores of others were given long sentences Monday for plotting against the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In the culmination of a five-year trial involving some 250 defendants, a court handed life terms to retired Gen. Ilker Basbug and at least 18 others — including retired military officers, a left-wing politician and a journalist, The Associated Press reports. More than 60 people received sentences ranging from 1 to 47 years.
Some 21 people were acquitted, according to state-run TRT television. The full tally of sentences was not immediately available.
The defendants were expected to appeal Monday's verdicts by Istanbul's 13th High Criminal Court.
"The defendants were accused of plotting high-profile attacks that prosecutors said were aimed at sowing chaos in Turkey to prepare the way for a military coup. The prosecutions already have helped Erdogan's government reshape Turkey's military and assert civilian control in a country that had seen three military coups since 1960.
"The trial, which began in 2008, grew out of an investigation into the seizure of 27 hand grenades at the home of a noncommissioned officer in Istanbul in 2007.
"The defendants were accused of being part of an alleged ultranationalist and pro-secular gang called Ergenekon, which takes its name from a legendary valley in Central Asia believed to be the ancestral homeland of Turks."
NPR's Deborah Amos reported on the trial soon after it began in 2008. She noted that previous investigations of the military have been stymied:
"In the past, investigations into these sensitive areas have been blocked. One example is a mysterious car crash in 1996 that killed a former police chief, a politician and a mafia boss. The car's trunk was loaded with weapons, narcotics and U.S. dollars. An investigation into the harsher aspects of the decades-long military campaign against Kurdish separatists in the southeast was blocked, too."
Critics called the charges against Basbug and the others politically motivated. They say the case is meant to stifle the country's secularists, who have dominated the country's politics for decades. Indeed, there were protests Monday against the verdict.