Top court fines state for violating rights of Soma mine disaster protesters

Turkey’s Constitutional Court has ruled for rights violation in a case concerning the injury of two demonstrators during a protest against the government and Soma coal mining company in May 2014 in the capital Ankara. The top court ordered the state to pay 20,000 Turkish Liras (roughly $6,830) to each of the applicants.

Duvar English

Turkey’s Constitutional Court has ruled that the authorities violated the right to assembly and demonstration as well as the right to life when they ordered the police to disperse a crowd that protested the Soma coal mine disaster -- the country's deadliest-ever mining disaster -- in the capital Ankara in May 2014.

The top court ordered the state to pay 20,000 Turkish Liras (roughly $6,830) to each of the two applicants, who were injured during the police intervention in Güven Park in Kızılay Square.

The case concerns the complaints of Betül Öztürk Gülhan and Sıla Koç, who initially filed a lawsuit at a local court. The public prosecutors however gave the decision of non-prosecution at the stage of preliminary prosecution, saying that police officers were performing their duties. Then Gülhan and Koç applied to the Constitutional Court, saying that their right to life as well as their right assembly and demonstration were violated, as per the Article 34th and Article 17th of the Constitution, respectively.

“An eight-second-long CD provided by the applicants shows that they have been injured at Güvenpark. Administrative and judicial authorities could not prove the necessity of the police intervention against the protesters who gathered at Güvenpark,” said the top court's ruling. The top court said that such a protest "should be accepted as ordinary in a pluralistic, democratic system.”

Thousands people gathered in the capital’s central Güvenpark on May 14, 2014, one day after 301 miners died in the Soma district of the western province of Manisa. Police fired tear gas and water cannon at the protesters.

The Soma disaster was caused by a fire that swept through the mine. It was Turkey’s worst industrial disaster and the world’s biggest mining disaster this century. The deaths were caused by carbon monoxide spread through the mine by the fire.

Critics said the accident showed the government was too close to industry bosses and was insensitive, after Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was prime minister at the time and is now president, said the disaster was part of the profession’s “destiny.”

Mine operator Soma Holding denied negligence, while the government said existing mining safety regulations were sound.

Workplace accidents have become more common in Turkey, where rapid growth in the past decade has seen a construction boom and a scramble to meet soaring energy and commodities demand. Critics say worker safety standards have not kept pace.

Turkey has a poor mining safety record, particularly its in its coal mines. Hundreds of miners are killed by accidents in the industry each year.

The government tightened work safety rule and imposed tougher penalties for breaches in 2014, six months after the Soma disaster. New measures include financial penalties and prison terms for those found liable in fatal accidents.