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Cadets, conscripts caught up in Turkey's post-coup crackdown

media Relations of detained soldiers watch the Istanbul courthouse for signs of prisoners being freed or moved. Tony Cross/RFI

The state of emergency declared after Turkey's failed coup has extended police powers, as a crackdown on those President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says were behind the putsch continues.

Thousands have been fired or jailed - including soldiers suspected of taking part. Although on Saturday 1,200 low-ranking soldiers were released in Ankara, in Istanbul families are desperately trying to find out what has happened to their sons.

Metal barricades limit access to Istanbul's vast, modern court house and a long line of buses, commandeered to carry police to raids, sits ready for action.

Soldiers seized during or after the failed putsch are being held inside, many of them young conscripts or cadets.

Families have come here to try to find out where their loved ones are.

There was a large crowd on Friday.

On Saturday there are fewer, watching the imposing edifice in case some of the prisoners are moved.

Most refuse to speak but one man agrees to, on condition that his name isn't given.

His son was among 3-400 cadets detained at the air force academy four days after the coup.

What does he think will happen to him?

"We can't know," he says. "The state will decide. The state will interrogate people and the guilty ones will be punished. That is it. But my son is not guilty. Because, he was a student and he was at the school and he was taken together with some 300-400 other students. They took him just to have his testimony."

Nearby Turgay Dogany, a furniture maker, enthusiastically supports the crackdown.

They planned to create panic and turn Turkey into Syria or Egypt," he declares. "Those weapons belong to us. It is not possible to turn them on us. We gave them bread them but they betrayed us.

But he cites a Turkish proverb when he admits innocent people could be punished.

"For sure! Wet leaves may be burned with dry ones. You cannot choose. It is not all the military, just some gangs in it. It doesn’t mean that all 50,000 people are guilty."

Many of the 7,423 soldiers detained are conscripts or even cadets of 14-16-years-old, according to Senaly Karatas of the Human Rights Organisation in Istanbul.

"They are the most tragic part of this issue," she says in the group's office in central Istanbul. "People have applied from us from the families of the conscripts who cannot reach their sons and the families and teachers of the military academy students, who are aged 14-17. The conscripts are doing obligatory military service. Privates cannot refuse orders. They were given certain orders and they obeyed those orders."

Many families dare not seek help, Karatas says, but her group is handling 34 cases.

"One family saw the photo of their son in the newspaper Posta, where it was clear that he had been subject to violence and was being detained," she explains. "They went to his unit, they said he was arrested, but the family could not find him at places where he could be detained. In the end we found that he was in Silivri prison."

The state of emergency has extended the time police can detain people without charge from four days to a month and Erdogan has suggested the death penalty may be brought back for those found guilty of involvement in the coup.

No wonder the families want to know what is happening to their sons.


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