Turkish soldiers who fled to neighbouring Greece in a military helicopter after the weekend coup attempt “fear for their lives” back home and do not want to be returned, one of their lawyers said on Monday as they appeared in a Greek court.
The eight men, who have sough political asylum in Greece, landed in the northern city of Alexandroupolis on Saturday after issuing a distress signal. They were arrested and charged with crossing into the country illegally.
Turkey has branded them “traitors” and asked Greece to extradite them. Athens has assured Ankara that their asylum requests will be processed swiftly but will stick strictly to international law and human rights treaties.
Vasiliki Ilia Marinaki, a lawyer representing four of the men, reiterated that the defendants “knew absolutely nothing about the coup” and were following orders from their superiors.
“They fear their lives are in danger. For that reason they do not want to return to Turkey and they have requested political asylum,” she told Skai TV.
At one point their Black Hawk helicopter came under fire from Turkish police, she added. At the same time they had received text messages on their phones that the coup attempt was underway, so they decided to feel to neighbouring Greece.
Since the coup attempt crumbled on Saturday, the Turkish government has launched a purge of the armed forces and judiciary, rounding up thousands.
The three lawyers representing the men requested a three-day postponement during Monday’s court appearance to prepare the case. The helicopter has been returned to Turkey.