Greek high court rules to not overturn Turkish soldier’s asylum

The Greek Council of State has rejected an appeal by the Greek government against the asylum of one of eight Turkish soldiers who fled to Greece after a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

The council, the highest administrative court in Greece, made its decision on Süleyman Özkaynakçı’s case on Tuesday, setting a precedent for the cases of the other Turkish soldiers.

A Greek asylum committee had decided to grant asylum to Uğur Uçan in June after the Council of State also granted soldiers Özkaynakçı and Ahmet Güzel asylum in May of this year.

A few hours after the controversial coup, eight military members had arrived in Greece on a Black Hawk helicopter and requested asylum. The Turkish government immediately issued an extradition request, which was eventually declined by the Supreme Court in January 2017, after a series of appeals.

Özkaynakçı, the Turkish serviceman who piloted the helicopter, may also receive travel documents to leave Greece. According to the reasoning for granting asylum by the Greek Council of State that was officially published on Tuesday, travel documents can be given with the consent of the Greek state. However, in order to make use of them, the Turkish soldier will first have to be accepted by the country to which he wants to travel.

In its ruling Greece’s highest administrative court said that there was no evidence linking Özkaynakçı to either the coup plotters or the Gülen movement. The ruling also made reference to the Turkish pilot’s statement that he has embraced Western values and that he is a secularist.

The ruling refers to Özkaynakçı only. The other seven servicemen will have to wait for individual rulings by the same court. Since the beginning of summer, Özkaynakçı and the seven other Turkish soldiers have been free; however, they remain under tight security for their protection as the Islamist Turkish government has often abducted its own citizens from foreign countries. Thus far, three out of the eight Turkish soldiers in Greece have been accorded refugee status.

The Turkish government reacted to the ruling with anger. “Judicial decisions that defend the putschists mean support for the putsch. The Greek judiciary has sided with the enemies of Turkey and putschists with this decision,” ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) spokesman Ömer Çelik said in a statement on Wednesday.

“We will never forget those who support terrorists with weapons and those who support them by judicial decisions,” Çelik said. “The judiciary’s decision to protect coup plotters in Greece, which itself suffered from coups in the past, shows that the law has been set aside,” he said, claiming that the Greek judiciary had taken its decision for “other purposes.”

The eight former Turkish soldiers — three majors, three captains and two sergeant majors— flew to Greece by helicopter on July 16, 2016 as the coup attempt crumbled. Greece has so far rejected three extradition requests submitted by Turkey.

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