No Justification for disproportionate use of force against peaceful women’s rights march

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Paris-Geneva, March 13, 2020 - As women protesters marched peacefully for International Women’s Day 2020 in Istanbul and faced an incredible deployment of police forces aimed at containing the demonstrators, the Observatory (FIDH-OMCT) denounces the violence that resulted from the disproportionate use of force by the police. The violence and arrests that ensued had no reason to take place other than it being provoked by the security restrictions and plan implemented by the Governorate.

Feminist Night March in Istanbul on the occasion of March 8 was this year again met by police violence, tear gas and rubber bullets. The protest had been banned by the Governorate, on the grounds that “Istiklal Street is not one of the designated areas for public demonstrations”. All streets leading up to Istiklal Street were closed down by police barricades to women, and public transport to Taksim Square was shut down. Despite the ban, the protestors started to gather in the area around 19:00. The women gathered in Siraselviler Street, one of the main streets connecting to the Taksim Square, attempted to pass the barricades, and, in response, the police pushed women back also using tear gas. 32 women and 2 men were taken into police custody while police also used excessive force against some of the protestors. Despite their release the following morning, the Observatory denounces this disproportionate response to a peaceful demonstration.

According to video footages released after the demonstrations on media websites and on the social media, police forces marched against and pushed back the crowd, and some protestors were blockaded by police officers and dragged. Another video shows a women being taken by a plain clothes officer through a crowd of police officers trying to hit her.

The Observatory condemns the authorities’ disproportionate response to peaceful protestors exercising their fundamental right to freedom of assembly, and reminds them that International Women’s Day marches in the Istiklal Street in Istanbul have taken place in a peaceful manner and without police intervention for years until the authorities decided to criminalise the protests in March 2019. The Observatory also remembers other occasions where police used force against peaceful women protestors in Istanbul on March 8, 2019, on International Women’s Day, and on November 24, 2019 and 2018, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

The Observatory calls on the authorities of Turkey to upheld the right to freedom of peaceful assembly protected by the Constitution of Turkey as well as international treaties, and stop introducing disproportionate restrictions to the legitimate exercise of human rights by the civil society and citizens of Turkey. The Observatory also calls on authorities to stop the ongoing criminalisation and harassment of women’s rights defenders in Turkey.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

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