The Ankara 12th High Criminal Court on Wednesday began the trial of the last two surviving leaders of Turkey's 1980 coup d'etat that led to three years of military rule, during which 50 people were hanged and half a million arrested. The two retired generals, 94-year-old Kenan Evren [official profile], who held the presidential office for seven years following the military takeover, and 87-year-old former air force commander Tahsin Sahinkaya, did not appear in court due to ill health. The two men are the first military officers to be tried for staging a coup [Reuters report], made possible by a 2010 referendum that overturned a coup-leader immunity clause in Article 15 of the Constitution [text]. The military overthrew sitting governments in both 1960 and 1971, and forced out a coalition government as recently as 1997, but the 1980 coup was the last true military overthrow, and is regarded as the bloodiest. The current AK Party government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan [BBC News profile], the opposition and the parliament have all applied along with 500 individuals and groups to be aggrieved party co-plaintiffs in the trial. Defense counsel requested a dismissal, arguing that a civilian court is not authorized to hear the trial, but the motion was rejected. The court has adjourned until the defendants have sufficiently regained health to appear to hear their indictment read aloud in court. The two retired generals are charged with crimes against the state for attempting to overthrow a civilian government, and the prosecution is seeking life imprisonment.
In June Evren became the first military leader questioned since constitutional immunity was repealed in 2010. The court accepted the indictment against Evren and Sahinkaya in January, after the prosecution charged the two retired generals [JURIST reports] a week earlier. Turkey has faced numerous coup plots during the past few years and continues to bring charges against military officials and other individuals for crimes against the government. Thirteen Turkish journalists were accused of plotting [JURIST report] to overthrow the government in November. In August the court issued arrest warrants [JURIST report] for seven generals and admirals relating to allegations that they created an anti-government website in 2009. After being detained for questioning in connection with their alleged coup plot, three high ranking military officials were released by the court [JURIST report], but remained under investigation.