Thirty-five Besiktas fans went on trial on Tuesday accused of attempting to stage a coup during mass protests last year, in a case the opposition and rights groups say is an abuse of the justice system by a government bent on revenge.
Prosecutors are seeking life sentences for all of them, from a supporters’ group of major Istanbul team Besiktas. They are accused of helping organize the protests that erupted in Istanbul’s Taksim square in May 2013 and grew into a major challenge to then-Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan, who won a presidential election in August, has vowed to hunt down the “traitors” behind the protests and a corruption scandal which emerged just over six months later, both of which he cast as an orchestrated bid to topple him.
The trial began two days after Turkey drew international criticism for the detention by police of prominent media figures in what Erdogan said was a response to “dirty operations” by his political enemies.
The indictment accuses the football fans of seeking to occupy Erdogan’s Istanbul office near the Besiktas stadium “to create the appearance that a weakness of authority had emerged in the country”, and of drawing foreign media to the protest areas.