Soma disaster victim’s father condemns release of mine official

Government officials, family members and civil society representatives gathered on Wednesday for a memorial in Turkey’s western province of Manisa on Wednesday to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the 2014 Soma mining disaster.

But as they remembered the 301 people who died in the explosion in Manisa’s Soma mine on May 13, 2014 – Turkey’s worst ever mining accident – relatives of the fallen miners were also protesting that officials blamed for the disaster are still walking free.

Special measures were taken to follow protective measures against the coronavirus pandemic, including large seating areas for family members adjacent to the victims’ graves, Evrensel newspaper reported.

The blast and subsequent fire that killed the miners in 2014 were blamed on lax safety procedures at the mine and the Turkish government came under strong criticism for its handling of the issue.

The expert report on the accident attributed responsibility for the disaster to state inspectors and institutions with monitoring powers responsible for multiple failures in their duty of oversight. 

But the minister of labour and social security and of energy and natural resources withheld permission to pursue a criminal investigation against officials. They were able to block an investigation based on a controversial law, which states that prosecutors need administrative permission to investigate state officials for offences committed in the course of their public duties.

"I am only one of the fathers who lost 301 of their sons during the tragedy,’’ İsmail Çolak, the head of the Soma Coal Miners Assistance Association told Evrensel.

"Six years on, our pain remains strong. We waged a legal battle for four years, but, unfortunately, we live in a country where there is no justice and all orders are given by one person,’’ Çolak said.

To add to Çolak’s pain, one of the most prominent officials who was sentenced to 15 years in prison for his role in the disaster, Soma Mining Inc CEO Can Gürkan, has been released.

Turkey's parliament in April passed a law allowing for the release of tens of thousands of prisoners to stem the potential outbreak of the coronavirus in overcrowded prisons.

Gürkan’s release under that law effectively grants companies permission to perform massacres, Çolak said.  

"Government officials have conducted another massacre,’’ he said. "We will under no circumstance accept this."

The law, which facilitates the release of one third of Turkey’s prison population, has come under criticism by opposition parties and activists for excluding political prisoners, but not those convicted of drug trafficking, sexual abuse and organised crime, among others.