Turkey's former military chief Ilker Basbug was one of at least 40 people convicted Monday of plotting to overthrow the government, as a court near Istanbul began delivering the first verdicts in the so-called Ergenekon trial.
A total of 275 people are accused of belonging to a secret network of secular ultra-nationalists, named Ergenekon in honor of a heroic victory in Turkish mythology, who allegedly sought to trigger a violent coup against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
By late afternoon Monday, at least 21 defendants had been acquitted, the Associated Press reported. More than 40 received prison sentences ranging from a year to life.
Basbug, formerly chief of the armed forces and one of the case's most prominent defendants, got life. He has always denied the charges.
The other people accused include army officers, opposition politicians, academics, lawyers and journalists.
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The investigation and trial has taken more than five years and prompted accusations that the Islamist-rooted AKP is using the charges to persecute its opponents.
"This trial is purely political," one of the defendants, Mustafa Balbay, told the tribunal in Silivri, west of Istanbul.
"Today it's the government which is convicted, not us."
Other observers, however, have praised the Ergenekon trial as a step towards democracy in Turkey, where the army overthrew three governments in 1960, 1971 and 1980.
In a separate ruling in September 2012, more than 300 hundred active and retired army officers were jailed over a 2003 military exercise alleged to have been an undercover coup plot.
There was tight security in place outside the courtoom Monday, which police surrounded with metal barriers. Protests were banned in nearby streets and security forces fired tear gas to disperse defiant crowds, Al Jazeera reported.
Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.