ATHENS — Greece’s highest court has approved the release from custody of one of eight Turkish servicemen who have applied for asylum in Greece after fleeing Turkey following a failed 2016 coup in the neighboring country.
That was over the objections of anti-nationalist Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras who opposes asylum for the soldiers at the same time Turkey is holding two Greek soldiers facing trial after they said they accidentally crossed the border while on patrol in bad weather.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said he can’t interfere in his country’s justice system to release the Greek soldiers, wants Tsipras to overrule Greek courts and return the men, barred by a ruling which said their lies would be in danger as they said they didn’t take part in the attempt to overthrow him.
While the two countries belong to NATO, tensions have heightened over the cases as well as constant Turkish violations of Greek airspace and waters with fighter jets and warships, and Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, leader of the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) said the Greek soldiers are being held hostage.
It was not clear when the release order would be carried out. The serviceman, who was not publicly named, will be subject to strict restrictions on his movements while he waits for a decision on his asylum application, leaving him in a kind of half-asylum, half-detained state.
The Council of State ruled that the officer will remain at an undisclosed address, must appear daily at a local police station and cannot obtain travel documents until his asylum application is determined next month.
His request was considered before the others because his asylum application is at a more advanced stage. Courts had initially granted him asylum, but suspended the decision following a Greek government appeal.
The eight helicopter crewmen, who deny involvement in the attempted coup, have become a bone of contention in increasingly souring Greek-Turkish relations. Turkey is demanding their return but Greek courts have rejected the extradition requests.
The court earlier did not rule on whether to grant asylum to the officer, reserving its decision for its new session in early May but said the released officer must be protected but not detained but not fully released.
The officer piloted the military helicopter which brought the eight officers to Greece a day after the botched coup, had been granted protection by an asylum appeals committee in December 2017 but the government appealed against the decision.
The Turkish soldiers have been detained for months and they are expected to be released at the end of May, when the maximum detention period of 18 months expires.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)