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Ruling in trial of Turkey’s worst mining disaster sparks outrage among victims’ families

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An executive of a mining company in western Turkey, where Turkey’s worst mining disaster took the lives of hundreds in 2014, has been handed down only a 20-year prison sentence, attracting condemnation from the victims’ family members, the Gazete Duvar news website reported on Wednesday.

A total of 301 miners died in a fire inside the coal mine in the Soma district of Manisa province in May 2014. The deaths were caused by carbon monoxide spread through the mine by the fire.

After a seven-year legal proceeding, Manisa’s Akhisar 1st Criminal Court of Peace on Wednesday sentenced Can Gürkan, the CEO of Soma Holding, to 20 years in prison on charges of involuntary manslaughter.

The court also handed down a prison sentence of 12 years, six months to two mining engineers, Efkan Kurt and Adem Osmanoğlu, while acquitting Haluk Evinç, an executive board member of the mining company who was referred to as the manager responsible for an emergency action plan in the expert reports.

After the announcement of the decision, the victims’ family members refused to leave the courtroom and shouted, “This isn’t a punishment, it’s a reward,” in protest of the ruling, Duvar said, adding that the complainants’ lawyers said they would appeal the verdict.

In July 2018 a Turkish court sentenced executives from the mining company to up to 22 years in prison for their role in the coal mine disaster. Gürkan was sentenced to 15 years, while the court acquitted 37 of 51 defendants, including Alp Gürkan, the owner of the company and the father of Can Gürkan, who were tried for the 301 deaths on charges ranging from “killing with probable intent” to “criminally negligent manslaughter.”

The 14th criminal chamber of the İzmir Regional Court upheld the prison sentences for five defendants on April 19, 2019, releasing Can Gürkan from prison the same day.

The 12th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals reversed the decision on September 30, 2020 and all the defendants were released on February 5, 2021. The new trial started on April 13, 2021.

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