Soma mining disaster 10th anniversary: 28 public officials face judge in first court appearance

Twenty-eight public employees, previously untried in connection with the mining disaster that killed 301 workers in Manisa province's Soma district a decade ago, appeared before a judge for the first time.

Duvar English

Public employees who were not part of the previous trials related to the Soma mining disaster in Manisa, which claimed the lives of 301 miners a decade ago, were set to appear before a judge for the first time on May 8.

During the main trial, which started in 2015 and lasted more than three years, the the Family, Labor and Social Services Ministry did not authorize an investigation against public officials.

In 2021, Turkey's Court of Cassation overturned a previous ruling that had blocked the prosecution of public servants allegedly responsible for the Soma mining disaster. This reversal followed a decision by the Constitutional Court, which found that the victims' families' rights had been violated due to the failure to prosecute these public servants.

Subsequently, as a result of the investigation carried out by the Soma Chief Public Prosecutor's Office, an indictment was prepared against 28 public officials who were found negligent. 

Soma 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance opened a public case afterward and the defendants appeared before the judge for the first time ten years after the disaster.

The public workers were accused of conducting unlawful inspections at the site of the mine on the grounds that they had misrepresented the work safety conditions on the ground prior to the disastrous accident.

The workers reportedly alerted the employers of the inspection prior to the scheduled date, only observed safer areas of the worksite for the official report, and failed to inspect critical electrical hardware.

What happened?

The Soma mining disaster occurred on May 13, 2014 when one of the mine pits was engulfed in flames and carbon monoxide gas, trapping a team of some 800 miners working inside. The deadliest tragedy in Turkish mining history led to the death of 301 miners.

The main criminal trial in the Soma case, which began on April 13, 2015, at the Akhisar High Criminal Court with 45 defendants—8 of whom were arrested and 37 were not—concluded with its 22nd hearing on July 11, 2018.

During the trial, 14 defendants, including the chair of the board, general manager, operations manager, and assistant general manager of Soma Coal Enterprises, received prison sentences. Meanwhile, 37 other defendants were acquitted. However, on February 9, 2021, the court decided that those who had been arrested would be tried without remand during the re-trial.

On June 16, 2021, The court handed down a 20-year sentence for the former CEO of the Soma Mine, Can Gürkan, whereas two Turkish Coal Enterprises Institution engineers received 12.5 years in jail each on charges of "killing with conscious negligence." 

Families slammed the verdict, saying suspects should have stood trial for 301 counts of first-degree murder.