Two mining company executives were convicted on Wednesday in the trial of Turkey's deadliest mining disaster, which claimed the lives of 301 people in May 2014 in the western town of Soma.
Out of 51 defendants on trial, Soma Holding CEO Can Gurkan was sentenced to 15 years and general manager Ramazan Dogru was sentenced to over 22 years, both on murder charges.
Manager Akin Celik and technical supervisor Ertan Ersoy each got nearly 10 years, while technical manager Ismail Adali got over 22 years in prison on the same charges.
Following the sentencing, there were protests by the families of the victims.
The mine had previously been considered one of the safest in Turkey, but on May 13 an explosion caused a fire about 2,000 meters from the entrance. The fire then caused the mine to fill with toxic gas.
Turkey’s Prime Ministry Disaster and Emergency Management Agency later said that a power distribution unit caused the fire, but the company denied this claim.
Claimed to be the world’s worst mining disaster in 40 years, and the 19th worst in world history, the disaster shocked not only Turkey but also the international community.
While Turkey declared three days of mourning to show sympathy with the families of the deceased miners, world leaders from dozens of countries showed an outpouring of sympathy by extending condolences and offering assistance.
According to an official autopsy report following the accident, most of the miners perished of carbon monoxide poisoning.
The autopsy found toxic gas was produced by a spontaneous fire which broke out in coal dumped around a transformer.
Carbon monoxide produced by the fire met fresh air from an inlet, fueling a greater blaze.
This spread to the mine’s third and fourth corridors, causing bands, timber supports, pipes, and electric cables to catch fire.
Water and other attempts to extinguish the blaze produced additional deadly poisonous and suffocating gas, the report also said.
Given the large size of the mine, the fire which broke out underground was not solely responsible for the 301 deaths; poison gas and suffocation produced by the blaze was the main cause.
There were over 780 workers underground at the time of the disaster; it occurred at the same time as the miners’ shift change.
Then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, now Turkey’s president, said in a visit to the disaster area that "no one would be able to cover up this painful incident."
"The necessary criminal and administrative investigations will be carried out, and we will be strictly following them," he had said.
Then-Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc also pledged a thorough investigation to find out the reasons behind the incident.
Dozens of prosecutors were assigned to oversee post-mortem exams.
Reporting by Meric