By NIKI KITSANTONIS
JAN. 26, 2017
The New York Times
ATHENS — Greece cannot extradite eight military officers who fled Turkey after a failed coup in July, the country’s Supreme Court ruled on Thursday. The Turkish government had demanded that the officers be handed over, and it immediately protested the court’s decision.
The court, Greece’s highest, ruled that the eight officers — two majors, four captains and two noncommissioned officers — would face “the curtailment of their fundamental human rights” if sent back to Turkey, and it called for their immediate release. The decision is irreversible.
The officers fled to northern Greece in a Turkish Army helicopter on July 15, saying they feared for their lives, and there was pressure on the court to deal with two seemingly irreconcilable demands: ensuring that the officers’ human rights were respected without angering a sometimes prickly neighbor.
“We protest this decision, which prevents those people who had an active role in a coup attempt that targeted democratic order in Turkey, martyred 248 citizens from among security forces and civilians, injured 2,193 citizens and also made an attempt on the life of our president, from standing before the Turkish judiciary,” Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “Greece, which has experienced coups in its past, unfortunately has fallen into the position of a country protecting coup plotters.”
The Foreign Ministry added that its attempt to secure the return of the officers would continue, and it warned that it might withhold cooperation with Greece on countering terrorism and on other issues.
Intellectuals, rights activists and lawyers in Greece had lobbied against the extradition, noting the risks of sending asylum seekers back to a country where the rule of law has broken down.
In a post on Twitter, Apostolos Doxiadis, a Greek writer and member of an initiative that lobbied against the officers’ extradition, described the decision as a “huge victory for Greek Justice and active citizens everywhere.”
Christos Mylonopoulos, the lawyer for the Turkish officers, said in a statement that the decision was “a victory for Greek justice and European values.”
He said that the eight officers had been returned to police detention for reasons that he could not immediately explain, but that he expected them to be released soon, “in line with the ruling.”
European officials had urged Greece to make sure that the rights of the military officers were protected, all while being mindful of demands by Turkey, a historical rival.
The Turkish government had made clear that it was expecting the return of the officers, whom they have called “traitors” and “putschists.”
resident Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has responded to a failed coup attempt with a wide crackdown, arresting tens of thousands of people, and he will almost certainly be infuriated by the decision on Thursday.
The decision is likely to be seen by Turkish leaders as another instance of the world failing to support the government’s response to efforts to destabilize the country.
There are fears of broader repercussions. Last year, Mr. Erdogan threatened to stop honoring an agreement with the European Union to help prevent illegal immigration across the Aegean Sea if the bloc did not “keep its promises.”
Talks on Turkey joining the European Union have been frozen because of concerns about Ankara’s human rights record.
Some Greek officials are concerned that Turkey will respond to the extradition decision by allowing a new wave of migrants to leave; Greece would almost certainly be their first destination.
Such a move would test Greece and the European Union, because Turkey has been crucial in dealing with the huge influx of people fleeing war and poverty in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, among other countries.
The Greek government has been under pressure from the European Union to protect the eight officers, who have said they would face torture and even death if they returned to Turkey.
Officials in Greece, however, were hoping not to rile Turkey, with whom it has a troubled history dating from the Ottoman Empire. The two countries almost went to war in 1974 over Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus, and again 20 years ago over a territorial dispute in the Aegean Sea.
In the months since the coup, Ankara has claimed Greek territory as its own, with Foreign Minister Mehmet Cavusoglu of Turkey declaring recently that islets in the Aegean were “Turkish soil.”
There are also concerns that Turkey could complicate the delicate negotiations on the future of Cyprus, even as United Nations-brokered talks appear to be inching toward a solution for the ethnically divided nation.