Turkish court to deliver final verdict on Soma mining disaster

A court in Turkey’s western Manisa province is preparing to deliver its final ruling on the 2014 Soma disaster where 301 miners lost their lives in the country’s worst-ever mining accident.

The court is set to issue a ruling on Wednesday following a hearing on Monday, news website Diken reported.

The miners were killed in an underground mine fire that broke out following an explosion in a coalmine in Manisa’s Soma district on May 13, 2014.

The current lawsuit is a retrial after the Court of Cassation in February overturned the convictions of four suspects in administrative roles.

In the first trial, owner of the mine Can Gürkan, Soma Holding board member Haluk Evinç, and Turkey Coal Enterprises Institution controllers Adem Ormanoğlu and Efkan Kurt had been convicted of causing death via negligence.

The Court of Cassation then demanded charges of 301 counts of first-degree murder and 162 counts of causing grave injury for the suspects in October 2020, but upon an appeal filed in January 2021, the court moved to demand charges of causing death via wilful negligence, which carries a maximum sentence of 22 years.

“The decision to put the four high-level administrators on trial again is correct, but incomplete,” lawyer for the miners’ families Murat Kemal Gündüz said during the hearing. “The court has approved the acquittal of the suspects save for the four.”

The Constitutional Court has already ruled that inspectors from the Labour and Social Security Ministry violated the miners’ right to life by not conducting an effective investigation, Gündüz said, adding: “But the Council of State hasn’t started procedures in 16 months.”

Suspect Can Gürkan said he would have spent 10 months in prison if he had accepted the charges against him. “Instead, I spent five years in prison,” he said. “I no longer have a job. I am inviting you to think again if you believe I committed that act.”

In the original trial, the court sentenced Gürkan to 15 years in prison for causing multiple deaths via negligence, as the mine had no safety measures installed, mine director Ramazan Doğru and deputy director İsmail Adalı were sentenced to 22 years and six months each, and director Akın Çelik and mining engineer Ertan Ersoy to 18 years and 9 months each. Gürkan was also barred from participating in mining activities for three years.

A safety technician, two mining engineers, several mine workers and a board member for the company were issued prison sentences ranging from 6 years and 3 months to 11 years and 8 months over their responsibilities in the disaster.

The court had also ruled to acquit Alp Gürkan, the biggest shareholder in the company, and Turkey Coal Enterprises chief controllers Adem Ormanoğlu and Efkan Kurt before the ruling was overturned.