Turkey’s top appeals court has ruled for the release from prison prior to retrial of the three remaining defendants in a negligent death trial, all executives at a coal mining company in Manisa whose premises were the scene of the worst mining disaster in Turkish history, Turkish media outlets reported.
A total of 301 miners were killed in a 2014 fire inside the coal mine in the Soma district of Manisa province. The deaths were caused by carbon monoxide spread through the mine by the fire.
The 12th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals revised an earlier ruling made by another group of judges in the chamber in October 2020 and recently ruled for the release from prison of the three executives from mine operator Soma Holding. In line with the court’s ruling, the company’s general manager Ramazan Doğru, deputy technical manager İsmail Adalı and technical manager Akın Çelik were released on Feb. 5. There are currently no defendants in the trial who are still incarcerated.
Manisa Bar Association President Ali Arslan said the families of the victims were devastated by the release of the three executives and described the court’s decision as unfair. The families of the victims, who have been seeking justice for their loved ones for six years, frequently encountered police intervention at their demonstrations.
At the end of their trial in 2018, Doğru and Adalı were sentenced to 22 years, six months in prison, while Çelik along with another company official was sentenced to nearly 19 years, and the chairman got 15 years. The court acquitted more than 30 of 51 defendants who had been put on trial over the 301 deaths on charges ranging from “killing with probable intent” to “criminally negligent manslaughter.” The defendants appealed the sentences.
The retrial of the defendants will begin at the Akhisar High Criminal Court in Soma on April 13.
Critics said the accident, which triggered mass protests, showed the government was too close to industry bosses and was insensitive, after Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was prime minister at the time and is now president, said the disaster was part of the “fate” of the job.
Soma Holding denied any negligence, while the government said existing mining safety regulations were adequate.
Workplace accidents have become more common in Turkey, where rapid growth in the past decade has seen a construction boom and a scramble to meet soaring energy and commodities demand. Critics say worker safety standards have not kept pace.
Turkey has a poor mining safety record, particularly its in its coal mines. Hundreds of miners are killed in accidents every year.