Soma locals beaten by energy firm’s private security after protesting construction on olive plantation

Soma locals beaten by energy firm’s private security after protesting construction on olive plantation

Soma locals beaten by energy firm’s private security after protesting construction on olive plantation

A local activist was sprayed with pepper gas in the face as she was handcuffed by Kolin's private security guards. DHA Photo


Some of the villagers who tried to prevent Kolin officials
from cutting down trees were handcuffed by private
guards. DHA Photo

A group of villagers near the Aegean town of Soma were beaten by the private security guards of an energy company firm building a new coal plant on Oct. 21, in an area that had been an olive plantation.

The villagers, who were trying to prevent officials working for Kolin İnşaat from cutting down olive trees in their plantation, recently launched a guard against midnight operations with bulldozers.

However, some of them were handcuffed by Kolin’s private security officers while around 500 olive trees were razed, during the company’s latest attempt to clear the plantation for construction.

The construction of a new coal plant in Soma, a town whose name became synonymous with disaster after a mining accident killed 301 workers last May, is the first to be initiated under a new law allowing the building of energy facilities in olive groves. But many Soma residents have raised their voice against the third coal plant in the area, saying the project would devastate considerable olive plantations, the second source of local income after coal.

“Around 100 people, including some 40 private guards, 40 other hired security officials, three digger operators, three bulldozer conductors and more than 10 sawyers came to the plantation in the morning. Villagers came after they heard the sound of the bulldozers. Those people then beat the villagers with sticks,” said Özgür Özel, Manisa deputy for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).


Private guards hit villagers with
sticks during the protest.

“Not content with that, they handcuffed the villagers and continued to cut the trees. But private security guards do not have the authority to use handcuffs, it is against the law,” Özel told news website Bianet, adding that some of the villagers were badly injured, including some who were concussed.

According to reports, at least 20 villagers were taken to a hospital after the incident, while one was taken to intensive care.

Legal process continues

Özel also said the lawsuit against the expropriation of the plantations was not yet settled, stressing that the land was still classified as an agricultural area according to municipal master plans.

“So, with the urgent expropriation decision Kolin can only grow olives in this land. According to the law, the gendarmerie should come [to halt Kolin’s actions]. The provincial directorate of agriculture applies a 90 Turkish Lira fine for each olive tree cut, but the company says ‘I’ll pay the fine and continue cutting the trees.’ So the state clears Kolin’s way by using the district governor and the prosecutor,” he added.

The total number of trees cut down in the land is approaching 1,000 since the company gave the green light for the construction of the new plant.

Kolin İnşaat was also one of the five constructor companies among the winning consortium for Istanbul’s third airport, and is known for its close ties with the government. The airport has also attracted massive anger due to the large amount of trees that will be cut down to make way for the facility.

The passing of the law allowing the construction of energy facilities on olive groves stirred huge controversy earlier this year, with olive producers describing the move as a “death sentence” for the sector.