ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Thirty-five Turkish soccer fans went on trial on Tuesday accused of at-tempting 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 organise 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 top-ple him.
The trial began two days after Turkey drew international criticism for the detention by po-lice of prominent media figures in what Erdo-gan said was a response to “dirty operations” by his political enemies.
The indictment accuses the soccer 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.