ATHENS – Eight Turkish soldiers seeking asylum in Greece after fleeing a 2016 coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in which they denied taking part will be released from an 18-month pre-detention period in April unless their cases are settled.
One of the men was already given asylum but Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA-led leader Alexis Tsipras, in what critics said was bowing to pressure from Erdogan, wants it revoked but has denied they will be extradited and returned.
Greece’s highest court said it wouldn’t be safe for the men to be sent back as Erdogan’s wrath has purged the military and social services and he said he’d like the return of the death penalty.
The men’s lawyers said they would face torture and worse if sent back but Greek Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas, who has defended a European Union refugee and migrant swap deal with Turkey that critics have denounced, said there’s evidence they took part in the coup although none has been presented.
That’s led to complaints that Tsipras wants to appease Erdogan and prevent the Turkish leader from flooding Greek islands with more refugees and migrants as they’re trying to deal with more than 15,000 and another nearly 50,000 on the mainland.
Greek Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis offered to have the soldiers tried in Greek courts although they haven’t committed any offenses and the one granted asylum was put into further detention.
All those facing charges in Greece must be released if not tried within 18 months, including accused murderers such as Giorgos Roupakias, a member of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party prosecutors said in 2013 stabbed to death Pavlos Fyssas, an anti-fascist hip-hop artist.
Turkey meanwhile has stepped up pressure for the soldiers to be extradited despite the Greek court order and promises from Tsipras and other SYRIZA officials they would not be returned, which critics said they don’t believe.
Turkish Deputy Justice Minister Bilal Ucar visited Athens and met with Kontonis but rejected Greece’s offer to try the men in Greece although it was unclear whether Turkey would be allowed to present evidence against them.
Ucar said there’s proof they took part although Turkey presented none at the asylum hearings. “Previous documents included information during the investigation stage,“ said Ucar. “Now, I gave documents on the indictment of the trial that involves these eight coup plotters and another 11 suspects.”