Greek Court Again Rejects Turkish Servicemen’s Extradition

Greek police officers in plain clothes escort two of the eight Turkish servicemen, right and third right, to the appeal court in Athens, on Friday March 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — A Greek court on Friday rejected a new request from Turkey for the extradition of eight Turkish servicemen who fled to Greece in July 2016 after a failed military coup.

The Athens appeals court ruled that the men would not get a fair trial in Turkey and would face inhumane treatment there if extradited. Turkey argues that the men were involved in the coup, which they deny.

Greek courts have rejected two previous Turkish demands for the extradition of the eight, who flew to Greece in a military helicopter the day after the coup.

The case of the servicemen has increased tension between the two neighbors and NATO allies, which are regional rivals that came to the brink of war three times since 1974 over the island nation of Cyprus and Aegean Sea territorial rights.

Examining the new Turkish request, the Athens court ruled that most of the accusations already were rejected during hearings of the previous requests. It also found that additional charges that the men belonged to an armed terrorist group and were involved in attempted murders had no solid grounding.

“Justice rose to the occasion today,” said Omiros Zelios, a lawyer for the eight men. “It is a happy day for the eight, the verdict was what we expected.”

Prosecutor Evgenia Kyvelou had earlier recommended that the men should not be extradited.

Greece and Turkey have sparred at top level over the fate of the eight, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan complaining that Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras broke a personal assurance to him that they would be returned.

Matters were further complicated by the March 1 arrest of two Greek army officers on the Turkish side of the two countries’ land border.

Greece said the men accidentally strayed across the ill-defined border due to bad weather, and Tsipras’ government asserted that their return would be a “pure formality.”

However, the two men, a lieutenant and a sergeant, remain in a Turkish prison on charges of entering a military zone. Turkey has rejected suggestions it wants to swap them with its own eight fugitive servicemen. But Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos has accused Turkey of holding them hostage.

Last month, a Greek coast guard vessel was rammed by a Turkish patrol boat off disputed islets in the Aegean Sea, and Turkish warships prevented an exploratory gas rig from drilling near Cyprus.

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