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Former students get 3 years in prison for protesting Turkey’s worst mining disaster

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A court has sentenced 30 former university students in the western Turkish city of İzmir to more than three years each in prison for taking part in protests over Turkey’s largest mining disaster in 2014, the Gazete Duvar news website reported on Thursday.

Turkey experienced its deadliest coal mining disaster on May 14, 2014, when 301 workers died in a blast and ensuing fire that brought down a mine shaft in the western town of Soma.

A week after the disaster, students at Ege University protested against then-prime minister and current president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, whose policies they held responsible for the tragedy.

Police took 38 students into custody after the protest and a criminal case was filed on accusations of damaging public property, resisting law enforcement, hindering the right to receive an education, disseminating the propaganda of terrorist organizations and violating the law on assembly and demonstration.

The İzmir 2nd High Criminal Court sentenced each of the 30 students to more than three years for “hindering the right to receive an education,” in addition to handing down an extra year to two students on charges of “resisting law enforcement” and “damaging public property.”

Şule Arslan Hızal, one of the lawyers for the defendants, told Gazete Duvar that the court came to a decision without adequate deliberation and despite the fact that the students didn’t hinder anyone’s right to receive education on the day of the protest.

“… We see that the lives of the [protesting] students were put in danger by the excessive use of tear gas and rubber bullets. … Despite all this, no action was taken against any police officer, but the students were punished. We have appealed the decision,” Hızal added.

The defendants have been released pending the appeals filed by their lawyers.

Work accidents are common in Turkey where economic development can ride roughshod over safety concerns, particularly in the construction and mining industries. The country recorded 1,898 mining fatalities between November 2002, when the AKP came to power, and October 2022, according to data from the Health and Safety Labor Watch (İSİG).

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