After a four-year judicial process, a local penal court in Turkey has handed down prison sentences to the former management of the Soma mine following the killings of 301 people in the country’s worst ever mining disaster in May 2014.
The verdict by the Akhisar court, which is 50km from Soma in western Turkey, was announced on 11 July following a trial lasting three years.
The mine's general manager Ramazan Dogru and technical manager Ismail Adali were sentenced to 22 years and six months in prison, and operations manager Akin Celik and technical supervisor Ertan Ersoy were jailed for 18 years and nine months.
The mine’s CEO, Can Gurkan, was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Alp Gurkan, father of CEO Can Gurkan, and chairman of the Soma Mines Company which owned the mine, was acquitted along with 36 other suspects. Out of 51 suspects on trial, nine other mine managers were given jail terms of six to 11 years.
Prosecutors had demanded prison terms of 25 years for each of the 301 victims.
However, families of the victims, civil society and trade unions are angry that the suspects were charged with negligence, rather than murder, which had originally been requested by prosecutors when the trial began in April 2015.
The 301 miners died needlessly at the Soma mine due to exposure to carbon monoxide and toxic gasses following an explosion at one of the pits. Reports showed that coal had been smoldering for several days before the 13 May 2014 explosion leading to a buildup of deadly gas.
“Public conscience was not relieved,” said the Turkish Trade Unions’ Confederation (Turk-Is), to which IndustriALL’s affiliate Maden-Is affiliated. Maden-Is is the union representing mineworkers in Soma. “When the reasons and results of the disaster in Soma are analysed, we repeatedly underlined that this was not an accident, but a massacre. All the evidences showed that there was a gross negligence at the level of intent much more than imprudence and carelessness.”
“Justice in Soma has been hammered,” said the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DISK) expressing outrage. “Our pains in Soma are still fresh. It is impossible for us to accept this verdict. We will not forget. We will not lie down. We will not forgive.”
A damning official report into the Soma disaster showed that the mine was a death trap. Warning sensors were ignored, safety reports fabricated and ventilation systems faulty, among other severe safety breaches.
“This verdict is completely unacceptable as it is far from expectations of the public opinion given the size of this disaster,” said IndustriALL assistant general secretary, Kemal Özkan, adding:
“It is certain that families of the killed miners will be outraged with this decision. Together with key mining trade unions from around the world, we visited them in their villages, and justice was their chief expectation. But, as the Turkish saying goes - the mountain has brought forth a mouse. IndustriALL Global Union will continue to follow this case until there is real justice.”