Two Turkish military officers who fled to Greece following a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016 were granted political refugee status on Wednesday after an appeal lodged by the Greek government was rejected, according to a report by Agence France-Presse (AFP).
The pair, who Ankara wants to extradite as “terrorists,” had been told they were allowed to stay by asylum authorities, although the Greek state contested the ruling. They are part of a group of eight Turkish military officers who arrived in neighboring Greece after the coup attempt, and their fate has strained relations between Athens and Ankara.
Greece’s top administrative court, the Council of State, on Wednesday found in favor of Süleyman Özkaynakçı, the co-pilot of the helicopter that flew the men over the border.
The decision also applies to another soldier.
A judicial source told AFP that the Greek government has launched an appeal against the second ruling, the result of which will apply to the next six officers. According to their lawyers, the eight military officers want to leave the country, fearing they could be kidnapped by the Turkish services in Greece.
Greece’s Supreme Court has already ruled that the eight will not be extradited, arguing that they would not have a fair trial at home.
The Turkish government slammed the Greek court decision granting the right to apply for asylum to the military officers. “This is the most shameful decision that can ever be given for a country,” EU Minister Ömer Çelik tweeted late on Wednesday.
“The legal system of EU-member Greece has decided to protect terrorists who had initiated a coup attempt in a bid to destroy democracy in Turkey. This mentality has stood with terrorists against Turkey,” Çelik added.
Moreover, in a written statement, the Turkish Foreign Ministry also condemned the Greek court’s decision. “With this decision, Greece has been registered as a country that protects coup plotters in the eyes of the international community,” it alleged, calling on Greece to “not repeat the same mistake.”
A further complication arose in March, when Turkish forces arrested two Greek soldiers who crossed the border while allegedly lost in the fog. They have been incarcerated for the past two months. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last month floated the idea of an exchange, which was flatly rejected by his Greek counterpart, Prokopis Pavlopoulos.