Turkey responds with a critical statement
8 men flew to Greece after failed coup
Greece’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday that eight servicemen who fled Turkey after an attempted coup last July will not be extradited – a decision that brought an immediate protest from Turkey.
Turkey had demanded the men be returned to face charges of trying to overthrow the government. The men denied being involved in the coup and said their lives would be in danger if they were sent home.
European Union and Greek law forbid extradition to a country where an alleged offender would run the risk of not receiving a fair trial and where his or her life could be in danger.
The government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which jailed thousands of people suspected in the wake of the failed coup, issued a statement on the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs website protesting the Greek court’s decision.
“Greece, an ally and a neighboring country, refrains from fulfilling the minimum requirements of combating terrorism and crime,” the statement said.
“As a country that has experienced coups in the past, Greece, with this decision has regrettably put itself in a position of a country that provides shelter and protection to putschists.”
Not long after the ruling, Turkey issued arrest warrants in absentia for the men, the state-run news agency Anadolu reported. Erdogan has repeatedly referred to them as “traitors.”
The Greek Supreme Court’s decision is final and cannot be appealed.
Threat to relations
Turkey said it would continue to seek extradition of the men, and warned that future relations with Greece could be in jeopardy.
“The implications on our bilateral relations, our cooperation against terrorism and other common cooperation in bilateral/multilateral matters of this decision, which we consider has been taken for political motives, will also be comprehensively evaluated.”
What the failed coup was about
Since the failed coup, Turkey has signaled a turn to a more aggressive foreign policy toward Greece.
As many as 200 people died in the violence surrounding the attempted coup July 15, and thousands of people – including members of the military and government employees – have been arrested for their alleged involvement.
International organizations and human rights groups have accused Turkey of torturing detainees and denying them access to the legal system. Erdogan has openly said Turkey may reinstate the death penalty.
A Turkish helicopter carrying the eight men landed in Greece the day after the aborted coup and the men requested political asylum.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu requested “the immediate surrender of eight heinous soldiers” in a tweet.
But Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said at the time that the asylum request would be “examined based on the provisions of Greek and international law.”
There appeared to be little support in Greece for extraditing the men.
Local media referred to the soldiers’ landing as “the Midnight Express flight,” a reference to Alan Parker’s popular 1978 film “Midnight Express,” which depicts horrendous conditions and human rights abuses in a Turkish prison.
A group of intellectuals, journalists and politicians campaigned for the Turkish extradition request to be rejected, despite the diplomatic complications that could arise.
One member of that group, writer Apostolos Doxiadis, tweeted: “Huge victory for Greek Justice and active citizens everywhere. Eight Turkish officers free by unanimous decision!”
Immigration could be affected
The court decision could affect immigration in the EU and around the world.
Erdogan has used a March 2016 landmark EU-Turkey deal to stem the flow of migrants and refugees into Europe as political leverage, threatening to flood Europe with migrants.
UN figures show that over one million refugees and migrants reached Europe by sea in 2015, the vast majority landing on Greek shores, resulting in a humanitarian crisis and politically dividing Europe.
The EU-Turkey deal has significantly limited the number of arrivals since. In a year of important elections in Europe, a new influx of migrants and refugees from Turkey might have an effect on voting in EU nations.
Another extradition demand
Turkey has also demanded the United States arrest or extradite exiled Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan blames for the coup attempt.
Gulen, 75, went into self-imposed exile when he moved from Turkey to the US in 1999 and settled in Saylorsburg, Pennsyvlania. The US has not taken steps to extradite him.
The imam, a reclusive figure who leads a popular movement called Hizmet, has denied any involvement in the coup attempt.
CNN’s Elinda Labropoulou reported from Athens, with Schams Elwazer and Ralph Ellis writing and reporting from Atlanta.