January 8, 2018 / 10:21 AM / 5 months ago

Greek court suspends asylum granted to Turkish soldier

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece won on Monday a temporary injunction suspending the asylum status granted to a Turkish soldier who fled with seven others to the country after a botched coup attempt against Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in 2016.

FILE PHOTO: The eight Turkish soldiers, who fled to Greece in a helicopter and requested political asylum after a failed military coup against the government, are escorted by police officers as they arrive at the Supreme Court in Athens, Greece, January 26, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

An appeals court in Athens upheld a request by the Greek government to suspend the decision made by an independent asylum council on Dec. 29. The Greek government has said the issue, which threatens already tense relations with Turkey, is politically too important to be adjudicated by an administrative body.

The court said it was granting the order ‘for reasons of public interest’ until a formal court hearing on the asylum board’s decision scheduled for Feb. 15.

It also asked authorities to refrain from taking any action which could precipitate the individual leaving Greece. The man was detained by authorities on Monday.

Turkey has demanded the extradition of the soldiers, which it has branded as traitors. Greece has made clear it does not want the soldiers in the country; government officials have said that individuals suspected of any involvement in the coup are not welcome.

Turkey’s President Erdogan accused Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of reneging on a promise to have the soldiers sent back within days of them fleeing to Greece. Greece disputes that account, saying the issue is up to courts.

But since then, Greek courts have ruled out the extradition of the eight to Turkey. Turkey accuses Greece of harbouring coupists, Greece denies it and says its judiciary is independent.

Last week Greece’s justice minister said Athens was exploring whether the soldiers could be tried in Greece.

The two countries have signed agreements on criminal acts such as terrorism and the penal code may apply to both Greeks and foreigners in that case, regardless of where any crimes were committed.

The soldiers are not accused of anything by Greece.

The eight men - three majors, three captains and two sergeant majors - flew to Greece by helicopter on July 16 in 2016, as the coup attempt against Erdogan crumbled. They have denied any involvement and said they feared for their lives.

Reporting By Constantinos Georgizas, writing by Michele Kambas; Editing by Toby Chopra

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