ANKARA: Turkey jailed over two dozen generals, including a former air force chief, on suspicion of planning the coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as Ankara on Tuesday stepped up a relentless crackdown despite international concern.
Erdogan has denounced the coup, which left more than 300 dead on all sides, as a treacherous bid to oust him from power devised from the Pennsylvania compound of his arch-enemy, the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen.
But with the authorities detaining over 7,500 people so far in a massive legal crackdown, Turkey’s EU and Nato allies have urged Ankara to keep the rule of law in place.
Erdogan’s suggestion that the death penalty in Turkey could be reinstated has sent shudders through Europe and sparked warnings such a move would be the nail in the coffin of its already embattled EU bid.
An Ankara court late Monday placed under arrest 26 former generals suspected of planning the coup, including former Turkish air force chief General Akin Ozturk, whom some Turkish media have painted as the mastermind of the plot.
The generals have now been jailed ahead of their trials, a date for which has not been sent.
They have been charged with crimes including seeking to overturn the constitutional order, leading an armed group and seeking to assassinate the president.
In his statement to prosecutors, Ozturk denied he was the coup ringleader. “I am not the person who planned or led the coup. Who planned it and directed it, I do not know,” state-run news agency Anadolu quoted him as saying.
Turkey’s treatment of the coup suspects has alarmed its allies especially after the suspects were paraded before the media and shown being subjected to rough treatment.
Anadolu published images of Ozturk and other suspects on the stairs inside the Ankara court house, staring blankly into the camera with their hands tied behind their backs.
Ozturk has looked tired and haggard in images published by state media, with one of his ears heavily bandaged.
The interior ministry said almost 9,000 people, including nearly 8,000 police but also municipal governors and other officials, had also been dismissed in a widening purge.
Turkey has blamed Friday’s coup bid on supporters within the military of Gulen, who Ankara accused of running a group it dubs the “Fetullahci Terror Organisation”.
Ankara has piled the pressure on Washington to extradite Gulen to face trial at home but US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday he wanted to see evidence and not allegations.
Gulen said in an interview with several media outlets including AFP at his compound in the Pennsylvania that he has “no concerns personally” about the extradition request.
The United States “is a country of law,” added the cleric. “The rule of law reigns supreme here. I don’t believe this government will pay attention to anything that is not legally sound.”
In addition to denying his own involvement, Gulen “condemned” the coup, saying: “I have always been against military interventions in domestic politics.” He called the putsch attempt “treason, a betrayal of the Turkish nation.”
Turkey abolished the death penalty for all forms of crime in 2004 but the government now claims there is growing public pressure to reinstate it for the coup plotters.
Erdogan told CNN in his first media interview since the coup that he would approve any decision taken by parliament to reimpose the death penalty on Turkey’s books.
“There is a clear crime of treason,” he said. But the EU — which Turkey has for years tried to join in a stalled accession process — warned of the consequences of such a move.
“Let me be very clear,” EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said. “No country can become an EU state if it introduces the death penalty.” Amnesty International said it was alarmed by the widening crackdown.
“The coup attempt unleashed appalling violence and those responsible for unlawful killings and other human rights abuses must be brought to justice,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia.
“But cracking down on dissent and threatening to bring back the death penalty are not justice.”
The president has remained in Istanbul ever since he dramatically flew back on Saturday to the city from the holiday resort of Marmaris where he was staying when the coup struck.
It was unclear when he would be coming to the capital Ankara. Every night since the coup he has spoken to supporters in the Istanbul district of Kisikli, where he has a home, urging them to maintain a “vigil” for democracy.
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said 208 people were killed during the coup bid, including 145 civilians, 60 police and three loyalist soldiers. In addition, the military said 104 coup plotters were killed.