Mine chiefs on trial over Soma mining tragedy
MANİSA – Agence France-Presse
CİHAN PhotoEight former managers from the mine where Turkey’s worst industrial disaster occurred in May 2014 appeared in court April 15 on murder charges, with prosecutors demanding they spend the rest of their lives in jail.
Some 301 workers were killed in the country’s worst ever mining disaster at the Soma coal mine in western Turkey. A total of 45 suspects are on trial over the tragedy, with the eight former managers from the Soma Kömür group who ran the mine have been accused of “killing with probable criminal intent.”
The eight, who include former chief executive Can Gürkan and general manager Ramazan Doğru, were not brought to court on the first day of the trial for security reasons. However, this infuriated relatives of the victims and the judge rapidly adjourned the trial, ruling that the eight should appear at court on April 15.
The eight arrived at the court in the early morning, entering by the back door and protected by 250 members of the security forces, police said. Some 3,000 members of the security forces were on duty around the courthouse to ensure order.
In his initial testimony read by a clerk, Gürkan said he could not be held responsible for the safety problems at the mine.
“I am not an engineer, a technician or a workplace safety expert. I am just an executive and as I have no technical expertise, I cannot be held responsible for the accident,” he said, adding that because he and his father had placed all their assets into the mine operation they had been the ones most affected by the accident.
Prosecutors say the miners were killed after inhaling gas and toxic smoke from a fire caused when an abandoned pile of coal next to an electrical transformer caught fire.
In their indictment, prosecutors asked for 25 year sentences for each of the eight, multiplied 301 times for each victim. This would result in a total sentence for each of 7,525 years in prison.
They also each face three-year sentences for more than 160 wounded miners. The terms of the indictment were confirmed at the hearing.
Disputing the conclusions of prosecutors over the start of the fire, Gürkan said he believed the disaster was the result of “sabotage.”
“To date, I still have no idea why this accident happened … As far as I know, the likelihood of a fire was next to none. I believe it was sabotage,” he said.
Gürkan also defended his widely-pilloried conduct in the aftermath of the disaster, saying he did not go to the site because of the risk of “provocateurs.”
The other 37 suspects also face hefty sentences on charges of homicide by negligence. The eight main suspects are being tried under arrest, while the others are free but under judicial supervision.
The trial is being heard 50 kilometers from Soma, by a court in the town of Akhisar, specially created in a cultural center to cope with the scale of the process.
Relatives of the victims burst into tears in the courtroom as they came face-to-face for the first time with the accused.
“My daughter was just three days old when her father died!” shouted one widow. “May Allah burn these sinners in hell for eternity,” yelled another.
Two relatives fainted during the hearing, but the authorities prohibited the taking of water into the court for security reasons.