Greek government in disarray over asylum ruling for Turkish coup pilot

Greece's asylum commission has granted safe harbor to a Turkish military pilot but Athens quickly challenged the ruling. Turkey condemned the initial ruling by the Greek commission, and warned of consequences.

The Greek government said it has appealed a decision by its own administrative body to grant political asylum to a Turkish helicopter pilot who helped fly seven other Turkish military officers to Greece after last year's failed coup attempt.

Greece's asylum service committee ruled Saturday that the unidentified chopper pilot was not likely to get a fair trial in Turkey, and so granted his request for asylum.

The ruling was immediately condemned by Turkey, who warned Greece that bilateral relations would suffer as a result.

"By granting asylum to one of eight coup plotters involved in the July 15 coup, Greece has once again showed that it is a country that protects and embraces coup plotters with this decision," the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement.

A short time later the Greek government announced it would appeal the committee's decision, though it was not immediately clear who they would appeal to, or on what grounds.

The initial decision is a blow to Ankara, which has repeatedly requested the co-pilot's extradition. But members of the Greek asylum commission, which included judges, ruled that the pilot was not likely to get a fair trial, putting his human rights at risk.

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Greek police met a Turkish military helicopter after it landed in Greece with eight military officers on board on July 16, 2016

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The commission's ruling was reportedly influenced by reports from human rights groups and the Council of Europe. They warned that Turkey has regularly committed human rights abuses against coup suspects over the past 17 months.

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Despite Turkey's claims to the contrary, the judges found there was no evidence to substantiate the allegation that the co-pilot participated in the failed coup.

A ruling on the seven other military officers is expected in the coming weeks.

Last January Greece's Supreme Court blocked the extradition of the officers, saying that they would not get a fair trial in Turkey, but the court did not actually grant the men asylum. Instead they remain in protective custody.

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The legal battle has already raised tensions between the two NATO allies. Ankara has previously warned Athens that a refusal to extradite the officers would hurt bilateral relations. The two countries cooperate on a range of regional issues as well as the fight against terrorism.

But Turkey has jailed more than 55,000 people it claims have ties to Fethullah Gulen, the exiled Islamic cleric whose allies Ankara says were behind the coup attempt. More than 140,000 people, including judges, academics, journalists and lawyers have lost their jobs during a series of government purges.

bik/bk (AFP, Reuters, dpa)