Two Greek soldiers who have been held in a Turkish prison for about a month are “political prisoners”, according to the head of the European Parliament’s largest group, Manfred Weber.
In an interview with Greek media outlet protothema.gr on 1 April, German conservative politician Manfred Weber, who is chairman of the European Peoples’ Party (EPP), questioned why Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that he sees Turkey’s future within the EU.
“I do not see something like that because Turkey is stepping away from the European values and the Greek soldiers who are in Turkish prisons is yet another proof of that; [Turkey] uses citizens, in the case of Greece soldiers, in the case of Germany journalists, as political prisoners to exert pressure,” Weber insisted, responding to comments made by Erdoğan at a recent summit in Bulgaria.
Weber also pointed out that Europeans should stick together and face up to the critical situation by being united and strict vis-à-vis Turkey, adding that that was a positive message to come out of the summit in the Black Sea port of Varna, Bulgaria.
Two Greek soldiers inadvertently crossed the border due to bad weather and were arrested in Turkey. They have been in Turkish custody for almost a month and no charge has been filed yet.
Greece has warned Turkey that it should not politicise an issue that in normal times could be solved quickly.
At the Varna summit, EU leaders emphasized the need for all European citizens detained in Turkey to be released.
‘Greece has a prime minister, not a sultan’
The Greek government fears that Ankara is trying to link the case with the eight Turkish soldiers that sought political asylum in Greece after the failed July 2016 coup attempt. Turkey asked Greece to extradite them on account of their alleged involvement.
But Greece’s Supreme Court ruled against extradition, claiming that this would endanger their lives and would expose them to torture.
Erdoğan criticised the EU for putting pressure on Ankara about the two Greek soldiers and said, “You did nothing about those terrorists [8 Turkish soldiers] and you didn’t say anything about them to Mr Tsipras.”
The office of Greek leader Alexis Tsipras issued a fierce statement in response, saying that Greece “has a prime minister who respects and acknowledges the procedures of Greek justice, not a sultan who would be able to issue promises on court decisions.”
“If the Turkish president had something to say about the affair of the eight [Turkish soldiers], he had the chance to say it both in private to the Greek prime minister and publicly during his recent visit to Athens. Today he chooses to continue an incomprehensibly slippery road of provocative attacks, counterbalancing two entirely dissimilar cases.”
“If he wishes to be the head of a state governed by law, he has to give explanations on the reason why Turkey is still keeping in custody two Greek military officers who have done nothing more than crossing into Turkish soil by a few meters while they were searching for illegal crossings,” the statement concluded.