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ISTANBUL: A Turkish court on Monday sentenced leading intellectual and rights campaigner Osman Kavala to life in prison on hugely controversial coup plot charges that had already seen him locked up without a conviction for more than four years.

The panel of three penal court judges also jailed seven other defendants for 18 years each on charges of aiding the attempt to topple the government.

The ruling drew swift condemnation from some of Turkey’s main allies in the NATO defence alliance as well rights campaigners — several of whom emerged from the packed Istanbul courtroom in tears.

Germany said the 64-year-old must be “freed immediately” while two leading European parliamentarians who coordinate ties with Ankara said the “regrettable” ruling showed there was “little to no EU perspective for the current Turkey”.

The State Department was expected to react later Monday.

“Today, we have witnessed a travesty of justice of spectacular proportions,” said Amnesty International’s Europe director Nils Muiznieks.

Kavala’s attorneys vowed to appeal while his supporters pledged to stage a protest vigil outside the heavily policed courthouse on Tuesday.

The Paris-born philanthropist told the court by video link form his high-security prison near Istanbul that he viewed the entire process as a “judicial assassination”.

“These are conspiracy theories drafted on political and ideological grounds,” Kavala told the court moments before the sentence.

The three judges took less than hour to deliver the sentence in one of Turkey’s most high-profile trials in years.

The marathon hearing has been gnawing on Turkey’s strategic but tempestuous ties with its main Western allies since Kavala’s unexpected arrest in October 2017.

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