Fourteen get jail terms for Turkish mine disaster

Fourteen people have been sentenced to jail for their role in a disaster that claimed the lives of 301 miners in Turkey’s Manisa province four years ago.

A court in Akhisar, where 51 people stood trial on charges of manslaughter and negligence connected with the accident, sentenced Can Gürkan, the CEO of the company that operated the mine, to 15 years in jail. General manager Ramazan Doğru and deputy operations manager Ismail Adalı were jailed for 22 years and 6 months each. Operations manager Akın Çelik was given 18 years and 9 months, while engineer Ertan Ersoy was jailed for 18 years and 9 months.

Nine other defendants received jail sentences of between six and 12 years, according to Sözcü newspaper. Thirty-four others were acquitted.

Proceedings in the courtroom had to be halted as the verdicts were announced as family members of the dead miners and their legal representatives protested the leniency of the sentences. They had demanded life terms for more than 40 of the 51 people standing trial.  

The mine disaster in May 2014, caused by an explosion and subsequent fire deep underground, was the worst in Turkey’s history. As its scale became apparent, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan came in for strong criticism for their handling of the affair.

Erdoğan, who visited Soma as the rescue efforts continued, enraged miners' relatives in a speech he made that suggested such disasters were not unusual. He was forced to take refuge in a shop as he tried to walk around the town, scuffling with protesters. One of his advisers was also filmed kicking a trapped miners' relative as he lay on the ground.