Fleeing Turkish troops fear death if sent home from Greece

Athens, July 21

Eight Turkish soldiers who fled to Greece in a military helicopter after last week’s failed coup fear they will be killed if they are sent back home, one of their lawyers said today.

The men - three majors, three captains and two sergeant majors - landed in the northern border city of Alexandroupolis on Saturday after issuing a distress signal. They were arrested and charged with illegal entry, and have sought political asylum.

“They believe that, one way or another, they will lose their lives (in Turkey),” said Vasiliki Ilia Marinaki, a lawyer representing four of the men, as they appeared in court with their faces covered.

“Regardless of whether the death penalty is imposed or not, they believe that in the end they will be killed,” she said.

Turkey has branded the men “traitors” and “terrorist elements” and has asked Greece to extradite them. Greece says it will examine their asylum requests quickly.

Turkey abolished capital punishment in 2004 but President Tayyip Erdogan has told crowds of supporters chanting for the death penalty that such demands may be discussed in parliament.

The soldiers say they did not know a coup was under way and they were obeying orders by their superiors to transport the wounded from the streets to ambulances, their lawyers say.

They decided to flee when their Black Hawk helicopter came under fire by police. “They were in a state of emergency and that is why they entered Greek territory,” Marinaki said.

“In any case, they entered Greece officially, meaning they landed officially at the airport, they disembarked and immediately requested political asylum.”