Justice remains elusive on 8th anniversary of Turkey’s worst mining disaster

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Eight years have passed since Turkey’s worst mining disaster took the lives of hundreds, with people who lost relatives in the accident complaining about the lack of justice in the case, currently at the Constitutional Court, Deutsche Welle Turkish service reported on Friday.

A total of 301 miners died and 162 workers were injured in a fire inside a coal mine in the Soma district of Manisa province in May 2014. The deaths were caused by carbon monoxide spread through the mine by the fire.

After the disaster a lawsuit was filed at a court in Manisa on charges that ranged from “killing with probable intent” to “criminally negligent manslaughter.” While the court acquitted 37 of 51 defendants in July 2018, it sentenced executives from the mining company to up to 22 years in prison for their role in the disaster.

The court acquitted Alp Gürkan, the owner of Soma Holding and the father of CEO Can Gürkan, while sentencing Can Gürkan to 15 years; the company’s general manager Ramazan Doğru and deputy technical manager İsmail Adalı to 22 years, six months; and technical manager Akın Çelik to 18 years, nine months in prison.

The 14th criminal chamber of the İzmir Regional Court upheld the prison sentences for five defendants on April 19, 2019, releasing Can Gürkan on appeal the same day.

The 12th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals reversed the decision on Sept. 30, 2020, and all the defendants were released on Feb. 5, 2021.

The new trial started on April 13, 2021, and the Akhisar 1st Criminal Court of Peace in June 2021 sentenced Can Gürkan to 20 years in prison on charges of involuntary manslaughter, also handing down a prison sentence of 12 years, six months to two mining engineers, Efkan Kurt and Adem Osmanoğlu.

The court acquitted Haluk Evinç, an executive board member of the mining company who was referred to as the manager responsible for an emergency action plan in the expert reports.

Speaking to DW, Gülfidan Köse, the wife of Erdoğan Köse, one of the 301 miners who died in the disaster, stated that she was frustrated with the courts’ decisions in the Soma trial and especially angry about the fact that none of the suspects are currently behind bars.

“We fought [for justice]. But … they put obstacles in front of us in every court. … Unfortunately, murderers are free. We lost 301 people, but we were unable to find justice,” Köse said.

The local court decision under appeal was upheld on April 4, 2022 by the 12th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals by a majority of votes. Can Gürkan is expected to be sent back to prison for the execution of his final 20-year prison sentence.

Meanwhile, families and relatives of those who lost their lives in the disaster took the case to the Constitutional Court last week, claiming violations of the right to life and the right to an effective remedy, according to DW.

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