After the coup, the 62 children being held in a Turkish prison

It was a Friday afternoon in the middle of Turkey’s long summer holiday, but Emre, a 15-year-old boy studying at Istanbul’s oldest military high school, was sitting in a classroom to resit an exam he failed.

Hours later, chaos unfolded in the city’s streets when a rogue group of officers and generals attempted to stage a coup. Tanks rolled over the Bosphorus Bridge and low-flying jets roared over the streets.

Emre’s mother was worried sick; earlier in the day, she had received a call from the school informing her that her son had been invited to a “cocktail party” after his exam. She had heard nothing since.

At 4am, finally, her phone rang. “Mum,” said her son, “bad things are happening. They took away my phone. They made us wear uniforms and gave us empty guns. They told us to guard the school.”

Emre mentioned their commanders had fled the school before hanging up the phone. He was arrested shortly after, along with 62 of his fellow students at Kuleli Military School.

The students, aged between 14 and 17 years old, were made to dress up in camouflage and were handed guns with empty magazines, their lawyers say.

Since that Friday night, the children have been detained in prison, unable to speak to their parents, and accused of treason against the state.

“Our child has never held a gun before. They were used, they were forced to do this,” said his mother, who was waiting for news along with dozens of other parents outside Maltepe Prison on Istanbul’s Asian side.

“Taking children and forcing them to carry out your orders is worse than any terror attack,” she told the Telegraph, speaking quietly so the prison guards would not hear her. Emre is not her son’s real name; fearing that speaking to the media would harm his case, she requested anonymity for her family.

Other children, the parents said, had been told by the school that they would meet famous football players if they came to school that evening.

Some teenagers told their lawyers that they had seen their commanders take three civilians hostage and beat them tied to a tree. When the commanders ordered them outside, one student hid in a closet, but was forced at gunpoint to participate.

As the Turkish government cracks down on its opponents in the aftermath of last week’s failed coup, the plotters’ ruthlessness has been overshadowed.

The horror of that night has emerged only slowly, often through citizens' mobile phone videos documenting airstrikes on civilian residents and soldiers shooting at unarmed protesters, men and women alike.

But Ankara’s disproportionate reaction has alarmed opposition politicians and its Western allies, who fear that the recently imposed state of emergency may become the final blow to Turkey’s weakened democracy and rule of law.

More than 50,000 civil servants — including some 3,000 judges and prosecutors — who are suspected of supporting Fethullah Gülen, the US-based cleric accused of masterminding the plot, have been arrested or suspended in the past week. Tens of thousands of teachers have seen their licenses revoked, while academics have been barred from leaving the country.

On Saturday morning, Turkey issued its first decree under emergency law, extending the maximum length of pre-charge detention from four to 30 days. More than 1,000 private schools and some 1,200 associations and foundations will be shut down.

Turkish ministers have repeatedly denied that the state of emergency would have any impact on people’s rights and freedoms.

“This state of emergency is not a curfew. People will still be on the street minding their own business and getting on with daily life,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday.

But the families and lawyers of the 62 detained children fear that amid the mass purges in the judiciary and the anti-coup protesters’ thirst for revenge, their sons could be denied a fair trial.

“Some families haven’t heard anything from their children for seven days — children at the age of 14 or 15. That’s not something that should be happening even in a state of emergency,” said Nazli Tanburaci Altac, a lawyer representing three of the Kuleli students.

She said three of the students had been subjected to a mass preliminary hearing of 55 prisoners in a single crowded courtroom, adding: “They got just two to three minutes to testify". The boys’ families were not allowed to attend.

Outside Maltepe Prison, a father of a 14-year-old student says he has not been allowed to speak to his son since last Friday, when he, too, went off to the school's “cocktail party".

“Our son went to this school because he loved Atatürk” — the founder of the Turkish Republic — “and it was his decision to enrol,” the father says. “We have nothing to do with Gülen’s organisation. We have no sympathy for them.”

“They are just children. They are innocent,” his wife interrupted. “The state needs to separate the guilty ones from the innocent ones.”

The father let out a bitter laugh. “How can they do that? In Turkey, there is no rule of law anymore.”

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