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Greek Court Ruling Protects Turkish Soldiers

Michael Johnson
Eight Turkish soldiers are escorted by police officers as they arrive at the Supreme Court in Athens, Greece, January 26, 2017. (Photo: Reuters)

Greece’s highest court ruled Thursday that Athens would not extradite a group of Turkish soldiers who fled to the European nation in the wake of last year’s attempted military coup.  

The eight asylum seekers, including two majors and four captains, arrived in Greece in July via a Turkish Army helicopter. Turkish news media claimed that the soldiers had links to a group that tried to assassinate Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the night of the coup attempt.   

However, the Greek court seems to take into account the widespread crackdown on dissenters in Turkey, explaining that the men could face “possible violations of human rights” and would not receive a fair trial if returned. Indeed, the BBC reported that family members of the men have already been subjected to retribution, having “lost jobs and had their passports confiscated.” The men remain in police custody pending asylum hearings; however, the decision not to extradite them cannot be appealed.

Defense lawyers involved with the case also cited Ankara’s deteriorating rule of law. Since the coup, thousands of military officials and political activists have been detained. Meanwhile, more than 100,000 people in the “army, judiciary, schools, universities and ministries” have lost their jobs, in what one analyst described as a “naked power grab.”

In a statement also released Thursday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry accused Athens, a fellow NATO member, of harboring the coup instigators, leftist radicals, and Kurdish groups. “Once again Greece, an ally and a neighbor, has failed to fulfill the basics of the fight against terrorism.” Other officials said that the ruling had violated international law and was politically motivated.

It remains unclear if Turkey will seek retaliation against Greece or even the EU for the verdict. President Erdogan could elect to ignore a hard-fought EU deal to block the transit of Syrian refugees into Europe, leading to a new exodus toward the Greek Isles.