by Aggelos Skordas
A Turkish court in Edirne on Tuesday rejected the fifth consecutive release request filed by the two Greek army officers who have been imprisoned in a maximum security prison since March 1, when they accidentally strayed into Turkey during a routine border patrol. The two Greek servicemen, a second lieutenant and a sergeant, are in custody for some 150 days with no charges being pressed against them yet, while they await trial.
The two were led handcuffed to the court in Edirne where their defendants saw the appeal launched for their release being rejected by the Turkish court for the fifth time.
Once again, the court’s reasoning for the decision was based on the grounds that the two lack of any permanent address in Turkey where they could stay until they are formally charged. The same reason for refusing their release was given on all previous occasions when they filed petitions for their release, with the last one filed less than a month ago, on June 19. Their lawyers have the right to file a new petition at the end of August.
Commenting on the decision, Greece’s Deputy Defense Minister Fotis Kouvelis criticised Turkye’s stance on the issue: “They have been in custody for more than four months without any charges being brought against them”, he said in an interview with Real FM.
The court’s negative ruling comes only days after Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Brussels, where they mutually agreed on ways reduce tension in the Aegean. During their tete-a-tete Tsipras requested the release of the two Greek servicemen, underlining that their case cannot be linked to that of the eight Turkish soldiers who fled to Greece following the failed coup attempt of July 2016 and applied for asylum.
The Greek servicemen were patrolling by the only land borderline between the two countries in a heavily forested region, near Kastanies, on Thursday March 1 when they crossed the borders with Turkey due to bad weather conditions. After encountering a Turkish patrol unit, the officers were initially taken to the provincial gendarmerie command in Edirne and remain in custody since.
The case has increased tension between Athens and Ankara, as the later attempts to link the two Greek officers’ release with that of the eight Turkish soldiers who fled to Greece seeking asylum following the July 2016 failed coup attempt in Turkey. Greek courts have rejected their extradition on the grounds that they would not receive a fair trial in their homeland.
Turkish daily Hurriyet published a new video footage from the transfer of the two soldiers from prison to the Edirne court: