The detained defendants in the trial being heard at Akhisar Serious Crime Court into the work-related murder which took place at Soma Kömürleri A.Ş. on 13 May 2014 and cost 301 lives were handed down custodial sentences of various lengths from 15 to 22 years on the charge of “conscious negligence” and not “eventual intent.” The ruling that has taken years to be issued was greeted with anger by the families and their lawyers. With the families hysterically screaming, “They’ve put justice in a coffin, just like our sons,” their lawyers said, “It has become clear why the reading of the sentence was adjourned. But, this affair will not end here.” The attention of those who had held watch for two days in front of Akhisar Serious Crime Court was focused on the ruling hearing of the trial that took one and a half years after the accident before it was brought. On Monday, Presiding Judge Salih Pehlivanoğlu had announced that, due to the “sudden indisposition” of one of the judges on the bench, the reading of the judgment had been postponed until Wednesday 11 July.
Wide-ranging security measures
The hearing yesterday was again held under wide-ranging police security measures. CHP Group Deputy Chair and Manisa MP Özgür Özel, parliamentarians including Ahmet Şık, Barış Atay, Kani Beko and Erkan Baş, Confederation of Public Employees' Trade Unions, Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions and Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects administrators and Union of Turkish Bar Associations Chair Metin Feyzioğlu did not leave the families on their own. At the hearing, the court bench, having changed the qualification of the offence in line with the prosecution’s recommendation to “conscious negligence” instead of “eventual intent,” handed down sentences to the detained defendants of 15 years to Board of Directors’ Chair Can Gürkan, 22 years and 6 months to CEO Ramazan Doğru, 18 years and 9 months to Operating Manager Akın Çelik, 22 years and 6 months to mining engineer and Deputy Operating Manager İsmail Adalı and 18 years 9 months to mining engineer Ertan Ersoy. Of the defendants on pre-trial release, 37 were acquitted including company owner Alp Gürkan. Judicial control terms were imposed on nine of the released defendants.
Flood of anger in front of the judicial complex
Health teams were seen appearing in front of the court in the minutes during which the ruling was announced. The families, who had surmounted many difficulties to get into the courtroom, poured outside in a hysterical flood of anger following the ruling. The court bench held a recess in the hearing for a while due to the uproar. One of the miners’ relatives who brought their outrage with them as they exited, Derya Girgin, said that she was eight months pregnant when she lost her husband and continued, “When he died, I still had the bridal henna on my hands. I raised the child on my own. We’ve been agitating for justice for four years,” while Gülsüm Çolak, who lost her son Uğur Çolak in the mine, screamed, “They’ve put justice in a coffin, just like our children. If need be, I’ll walk on my own to the front of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors.” She rebuked the press members who were trying to get footage of the miners’ relatives, “Don’t film us, but those causing this injustice.” Anger also dominated the press statement that was later made.
“They were in no state to get home”
CHP Group Deputy Chair Özgür Özel, recalling that a sit-down action had been staged in front of the court for two days, said, “We have staged many sit-down actions. But, for the first time we saw something like this - I mean, you know how everyone was saying, ‘Let our hearts dry up if we forget’ – no strength remained in the knees of the mothers of the 301 kids we promised not to forget. They collapsed on the spot and this is why the sit-down took place here. They were in no state to get home. We cannot leave holding to account for this in the court’s hand. It is this people’s moral duty to demand accountability for this.” From among the families’ lawyers, Can Atalay said, “Such disgrace is unheard of,” while Nergiz Tuba Aslan stressed it had become clear why the hearing had been adjourned for two days. Manisa Bar Association Chair Ali Arslan said they had hoped that the pain of those who lost relatives in the disaster would diminish even if only to a degree, but expectations had come to naught with the ruling that had been announced. Union of Turkish Bar Associations Chair, Metin Feyzioğlu, saying, “I don’t want to enter discussion as to whether the result was fair,” said that they would seek cassation review of the ruling. Following the announcement, a brief forum was held in the park next to the courtroom at which the path to be followed going forward was discussed. The families will look into various options, including walking to Ankara.