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Turkey: Beşiktaş football fans on trial for plotting anti-government coup

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By Alasdair Sandford  with Reuters
Turkey: Beşiktaş football fans on trial for plotting anti-government coup

Thirty-five Turkish football fans have gone on trial in Istanbul accused of trying to overthrow the government during mass protests last year.

Prosecutors have demanded life sentences for all of them, members of a supporters’ group of major Istanbul team Beşiktaş.

Opposition and human rights groups have castigated the trial as an abuse of the justice system by a government bent on revenge.

Last year’s protests over the demolition of an Istanbul park grew into a nationwide wave of unrest amid a brutal police crackdown.

At least six protesters and one police officer died and thousands of people were hurt.

The “Çarşı” supporters, whose name derives from the Istanbul neighbourhood they come from, played a prominent role in the protests.

An anti-police slogan chanted at matches rang out regularly and atone point Çarşı members commandeered a mechanical digger and drove it towards police lines.

Prosecutors have cited gas masks and weapons seized from the defendants, as well as intercepted phone messages, as evidence.

President Erdogan has vowed to hunt down the “traitors” behind the demonstrations.

Outside the court there was a strong display of support for those on trial as Beşiktaş fans were joined by others from rival teams as well as trade unions, politicians and activists.

“They accuse Çarşı of attempting a coup,” said one demonstrator. “This is groundless. Çarşı is the consciousness of our people. We are here to support our friends.”

Human Rights Watch says to charge protesting football fans as enemies of the state is a “ludicrous travesty”.

The trial comes two days after the detention of prominent media figures sparked international condemnation.

The government insists the judiciary is independent, but that criminal elements among the protesters must be brought to justice.

Bora Bayraktar, euronews correspondent in Istanbul said:
“While the court’s verdict is uncertain, what is known is that the Çarşı fans – often proud to be ahead of their rivals – have become the first football supporters’ group to be accused of an attempted coup.”