Media reacts to Soma disaster verdicts

Relatives of the 301 miners who died in a 2014 mine disaster in the western Turkish town of Soma were dismayed by the sentences handed down today by a court in Manisa to 51 people standing trial on charges of manslaughter and negligence.

Of the 51, 14 received jail terms of up to 22 years 6 months. 34 others were acquitted. The sentences handed down were more lenient than prosecuters had demanded, leading to angry and emotional scenes in the Akhisar courtroom where the verdicts were announced.

“If they were your children, would you do this?” one of the dead miners’ relatives shouted to the judges as the sentences were read out, according to Cumhuriyet newspaper, which quoted another relative as saying, “I can’t give my child an answer now. I was coming here for 4 years to get justice for our children.”

Some Turkish news organizations covering the verdicts dwelt, like Cumhuriyet, on the reaction of relatives of the victims, and also on events that happened in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, with Sozcu reprising the story of rescued minor who wanted to remove dirty clothes before receiving medical treatment.

Then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Soma shortly after the disaster ― during which he succeeded in enraging many of the victim relatives ― also received attention, though not, unsurprisingly, in Turkey’s pro-government media outlets, which also devoted little space to the protests of relatives. Indeed, semi-official Anadolu News Agency coverage of the verdicts was presented together with statements by Turkish government officials, made shortly after the disaster, promising a thorough investigation and no cover-up.

Reaction on social media was relatively muted. The BBC Turkey correspondent Selin Girit tweeted announcements of the verdict.

Former investigative journalist Ahmet Şık was more forthright though, tweeting a photograph of one Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s advisor’s, Yusuf Yerkel, kicking a protester during his ill-fated visit to Soma, captioned, “Photographic representation of the court’s decision in the Soma massacre”