Nearly 500 people arrested after last year's failed coup in Turkey went on trial on Tuesday, many of them accused of commanding the plot from an air base in the capital city of Ankara.
A total of 461 jailed suspects pending trial were brought to the courthouse in the suburban Sincan neighborhood, handcuffed and each flanked by two gendarme officers. Seven defendants are still on the run, while another 18 have been charged but are not in jail.
Most of the suspects are former military personnel at the Akinci Air Base, which allegedly served as the command center for plotters during the foiled coup. They are charged with crimes ranging from attempting to assassinate President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to attempting manslaughter and deprivation of liberty.
Turkish soldiers attempted to overthrow Erdogan's government using tanks, warplanes and helicopters on July 15 last year, but the coup attempt was put down by civilians and security forces. Some 249 civilians were killed in the failed coup.
Families of those killed or wounded protested outside of the courthouse on Tuesday. As the defendants arrived to court, some of the protesters threw hangman's nooses and stones toward them, shouting "murderers" and demanding that the death penalty be reinstated.
The main defendant in the case is Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based cleric who is accused by Ankara of being behind the coup attempt. Gulen is being tried in absentia and denies any role in the coup attempt.
Former air force commander Akin Ozturk and other defendants stationed at the Akinci Air Base are accused of directing the coup and bombing government buildings, including Parliament, and attempting to kill Erdogan.
After the coup attempt, Turkish authorities declared a state of emergency, which is still in effect, and launched a massive crackdown on Gulen's network and other opponents. They have also suspended or fired about 150,000 people from their jobs and arrested more than 50,000.
Several similar cases related to the attempted coup are under way in Turkey. The trial is the largest one yet and is expected to continue until Aug. 19. If convicted, many of the 486 suspects are expected to get life imprisonment.
The government says the purge is needed to address Turkey's security challenges and to root out what it says is a deeply embedded network of Gulen supporters. Erdogan's critics, however, say he is using the measure to stifle political dissent.
The European Union has made clear that any such move would effectively bring an end to Turkey's negotiations to join the bloc. Germany also wants measures implemented to raise financial pressure on Turkey to respect the rule of law, Reuters reported.