Greek court to review decision granting asylum to Turkish military officer

A Greek court in Athens has agreed on Friday to review the Greek government’s request to stay a ruling that granted asylum to a Turkish military officer who had fled to Greece after allegedly participating in a controversial court attempt on July 15, 2016 in Turkey.

After the July 15 coup attempt, eight Turkish soldiers, including two commanders, four captains and two sergeants, escaped to Greece on a Sikorsky helicopter and landed in Alexandroupolis. Following their landing, the eight military officers asked for asylum from Greek authorities.

Before their asylum request was taken to the court, a Greek court sentenced the eight men to a suspended two-month jail sentence for illegal entry into Greece. Ankara has formally requested from Greece the extradition of these military officers to face trial in Turkey.

Military officer Süleyman Özkaynakçı was part of a group of eight Turkish soldiers who took a military helicopter from Turkey to Greece hours after the coup bid. According to report by Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency, the Athens appeals court said it would hold a final trial in the case on Feb. 15, 2018 after a closed-door hearing lasting 40 minutes on Friday.

According to a ruling by the third Independent Secondary Asylum Committee, Özkaynakçı, the co-pilot of the helicopter that was used to flee Turkey, had been granted asylum. The rest of the military officers have so far not been granted asylum and are currently being held by Greek authorities until the committee makes a ruling regarding them.

Turkish Foreign Ministry had criticized the asylum decision, saying that Greece “has once again revealed through this decision that it is a country that protects and embraces plotters”. It also criticized Greece for not supporting or cooperating with Turkey as one would expect from an ally in the fight against terrorism and crimes. Turkish Justice Ministry has also sent several extradition requests for the military officers.

On Jan. 26, 2017, the Greek Supreme Court decided not to extradite the officers to Turkey. Turkish Foreign Ministry had called the decision “politically motivated.” The issue was also discussed when Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made an official visit to Greece on Dec. 7, 2017.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. Turkey’s Interior Minister announced on December 12, 2017 that 55,665  people have been arrested. Previously, on December 13, 2017, The Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

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