by Aggelos Skordas
Greece’s Supreme Court has ruled against the extradition of the eight Turkish army officers (including two commanders, four captains and two sergeants), accused by their country’s government of being involved in the July 15th 2016 attempted coup, in what is greeted in Athens as a historic decision. At the same time Ankara does not seem to absorb the content expressed by human rights activists and the servicemen advocates, underlining that the decision is likely to lead to a comprehensive evaluation of bilateral relations.
The Supreme Court’s penal section found that the servicemen who fled to Greece might be victims of rights trespassing in case they were extradited to their homeland, regardless of their degree of guilt or the seriousness of their offences, and would not be subjected to a fair trial.
The Supreme Court’s set of three judges reasoning is concentrated in one paragraph read out by the President: “…Based on everything mentioned, the possibility of framework annulment or rights reduction of all requested for extradition persons, irrespective of guilt degree or gravity of the offenses, precludes the application of the provisions regulating the issue since they recede against overriding rules protecting the value of man and his rights.” After the decision announcement the eight servicemen were released from police custody. ”The ruling was a great victory for European values, for Greek justice”, the lawyer representing the eight officers, Christos Mylonopoulos, commented, adding that ”justice can be a bright hope for the future when it is allowed to act independently”.
The eight fought a six-month legal battle in Greece in order to avoid extradition, while lower courts have, within this period, issued mixed decisions in a series of separate hearings. The Supreme Court’s decision is irrevocable, while earlier this week Greek Justice Minister, Stavros Kontonis, stated that he and the Greek government as a whole would respect any decision issued and would not intervene in the officers’ extradition case.
Ankara’s reaction to the Greek Supreme Court’s decision was immediate and fierce: ”We protest this verdict that prevents these persons from standing before independent Turkish justice who have been actively participated in the coup attempt targeting at the democratic order in Turkey and the life of our president and that martyred 248 of our citizens and wounding 2193”, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a written statement released minutes after the ruling, adding that ”once again Greece, an ally and a neighbour, has failed to fulfil the basics of the fight against terrorism”. In addition, it characterised the decision as ”politically motivated” and declared its will to ”carry out a comprehensive evaluation of the impact of this decision -which we believe has been taken with a political motive- on our bilateral ties, cooperation in the fight against terrorism and on other bilateral and regional issues”. On his behalf, main opposition New Democracy MP and shadow Justice Minister, Nikos Panagiotopoulos, underlined that the court had ruled ”on the basis of the laws and legal framework of our country and the values and principles of a state of law, keeping the country’s prestige high.”
The Coup Attempt, the Prosecutions and the Death Penalty Reintroduction Scenarios
The eight officers landed in the northeastern Greek city of Alexandroupolis airport in a Turkish military Black Hawk helicopter on the night of the failed coup in major Turkish cities last July seeking asylum in Greece. The coup’s failure led to a series of prosecutions and press charges against those allegedly involved in the attempt to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Turkish government said a massive network of senior government and judiciary officials, members of the army and the security forces as well as public workers and academics, were behind the coup, backed by self-exiled in the United States preacher Fethullah Gulen. In total, Turkey has ever since arrested over 37,000 people and dismissed or suspended more than 100,000 others in the civil service, judiciary, police, military and elsewhere. Having survived the attempt, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim have publicly repeated their intention to reintroduce the death penalty solely for the coup plotters, while the eight officers accused as ”terrorists” have denied any involvement in the plot and claimed that they fled to Greece in order to save their lives.
It is now left to see if the Greek Supreme Court’s ruling could challenge Ankara to increase diplomatic tensions between the two neighbours, which are already at odds over Cyprus.