A former military chief in Turkey was sentenced to life in prison and more than a dozen others received lengthy prison sentences after a court handed down verdicts Monday in a long-standing case that has divided the country.

From the New York Times:

A Turkish court sentenced dozens of high-ranking military officers, politicians, journalists and others to long prison terms on Monday for plotting to overthrow the government in a long-running case that captivated the nation for its audacity, laid bare the deep divisions within Turkish society between Islamists and secularists and earned sharp criticism from the international community over issues of judicial fairness.

The highest-profile defendant, Ilker Basbug, a former chief of staff of the military, received a life sentence. Three members of Parliament were given long terms, and at least 20 journalists were also sentenced.

But many critics of Erdogan’s regime and even independent observers had criticized the trial as politically motivated, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Some observers said the latest case raises the prospect of politically motivated trials in the months ahead as Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party seeks to stifle opposition after the still lingering June protests.

“The fear is that these types of trials could continue,” said Wolfango Piccoli, Director at Teneo Intelligence, a New-York based political risk consultancy. “The government’s control of institutions is now more complete and the independent media is weaker, so we may see the government go after other actors connected to the opposition.”

Recent protests in Turkey grew into a broader anti-government movement that opposed what many have described as Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian policies and his attempts to weaken more secularist opposition.

For some, Monday’s verdicts were further affirmation that the country’s Islamists aim to gain further control over secularists.  What started out as a case that targeted military members eventually expanded to journalists and government critics, drawing further scrutiny about the motives for pursuing the case.

From the NY Times:

The case was initially seen by many as an important move by Mr. Erdogan’s government to engineer democratic reforms by taming the military, which has carried out three coups in modern Turkey’s history and had been regarded as the guardian of the secular system laid down by Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Many democracy advocates in the country have grown weary of military interventions in politics, and hailed the trial, at its start in 2008, as a major step toward civilian rule.

But as the case grew and ensnared journalists, academics and prominent government critics, it came to be seen as a politically motivated attempt at silencing dissent. It also carried the notion of revenge and class resentment, analysts said, because Mr. Erdogan and his religious followers represent a class that was marginalized under the old military-dominated order. Mr. Erdogan himself was once imprisoned for reciting a religiously inspired poem in public.

Supporters of the defendants vocally opposed Monday’s verdict in the courtroom, as thousands of protesters assembled outside, according to the WSJ.

“This trial was run with fake documents, fake evidence and secret undisclosed witnesses,” said Ismail Aydogmus, a 57-year-old writer from Istanbul who had come to protest at Silivri. “The security precautions are taking place because the court is afraid of the verdict.”

Defendants’ families gathered at the courthouse said the case showed the authorities were pursuing a vendetta against the political opposition.

“This is not democracy. It’s cruelty. Our parents are devastated but they also proud because we know my brother is innocent,” said Fidan Cavdar Balbay, the sister of journalist Mustafa Balbay, who was sentenced to nearly 35 years in prison.

The verdicts are subject to appeal.  Many speculate that Monday’s rulings may spark even more protests and calls for change in Turkey.