January 21, 2015 / 12:28 PM / in 3 years

Turkish police sentenced to 10 years in jail for death of protester

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Two Turkish policemen were jailed for ten years on Wednesday for their part in beating a student to death during anti-government protests that Turkish leader Tayyip Erdogan described at the time as a coup attempt, media reports said.

Police used tear gas after the sentences were announced to disperse protesters outside the courthouse in the central Turkish town of Kayseri, broadcaster CNN Turk said.

The family of Ali Ismail Korkmaz, 19, who died after June 2013 protests, described the sentences as too lenient. Supporters of the police saw their treatment as unjust.

Three other defendants were sentenced to nearly seven years in jail. A sixth man was sentenced for three years but the court decided to release him given the time he has spent on remand.

Domestic and foreign critics of Erdogan viewed the 2013 riots as marking an authoritarian turn in his rule. Erdogan himself described protesters as hooligans and terrorists.

Security-camera footage showed Korkmaz being hit in the head with clubs by at least four men in civilian dress before he ran away amid violent protests in the northwestern town Eskisehir. Korkmaz fell into a coma and died more than a month later.

At least five other protesters and one police officer died and thousands were hurt in 2013 in unrest triggered by plans to raze Istanbul’s central Gezi Park to build a shopping mall. The demonstrations rapidly spread to other cities over what critics described as Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule.

The defendants in the Kayseri trial had been convicted of contributing to his death and faced up to 13 years in jail.

Korkmaz’s family expressed anger that they were given reduced sentences.

Mevlut Saldogan, a police officer who was sentenced to 10 years and 10 months in jail, told the court via a video link: “The real murderers are those behind the Gezi Park protest who sent innocent youths onto the streets.”

An estimated 5,500 people have gone on trial in almost 100 separate prosecutions, including some on terrorism charges, for taking part in the protests.

Reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley; Editing by Daren Butler and Ralph Boulton

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