Turkey: Galatasaray Square must be open to Saturday Mothers/People

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Credits: Hayri Tunç

International human rights organisations, including FIDH and OMCT within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, stand in solidarity with the Saturday Mothers/People. Since May 1995, they have been protesting for truth and justice for their forcibly disappeared loved ones. As they approach their 1,000th weekly vigil on May 25, 2024, the Saturday Mothers/People are Türkiye’s longest-standing peaceful protest. Despite facing severe repression, the group remains strong in its commitment and determination to uncover the truth and seek justice, by continuing its weekly vigils in Galatasaray Square.

We, the undersigned international human rights organisations declare our solidarity with Saturday Mothers/People, who have been protesting since May 1995 for truth and justice for their forcibly disappeared loved ones.

As they approach their 1,000th weekly vigil on 25 May 2024, they are Türkiye’s longest standing peaceful protest. Over the last 29 years and in particular since August 2018, they have faced unlawful restrictions on their ability to peacefully protest by the authorities, excessive use of force in the hands of police, arbitrary detention, baseless criminal prosecutions and administrative harassment. These violations have been met with impunity. Riot police who used excessive force to disperse the 700th weekly vigil on August 25, 2018 have not faced investigation, but the 46 human rights defenders including relatives who were subjected to that excessive use of force and unlawfully detained are still on trial today. Another baseless prosecution of 20 people, again including relatives, started in February 2024.

Despite all the barriers put in their way, Saturday Mothers/People have not given up their commitment to finding out the truth about the circumstances of their loved ones’ enforced disappearances and bringing those responsible to justice. They have also been determined to maintain their weekly vigils in Galatasaray Square, which they describe as their meeting and remembrance place with loved ones, despite the repression by authorities over the years.

While we welcome Minister of Interior Ali Yerlikaya’s positive comments made in October 2023, which in early November led to the easing of the restrictions in Galatasaray Square, we are concerned that police barriers and presence, and the arbitrary limitation of the allowed number of persons in the vigil to ten people, remain and will continue to hinder the Saturday Mothers/People’s right to peacefully protest. The two Constitutional Court rulings adopted in November 2022 and March 2023, which found that the right to freedom of peaceful assembly of the applicants had been violated and that ordered for the violation not to be repeated, remain unimplemented to this day.

We call for the immediate lifting of the ongoing restrictions imposed on the relatives of the victims of enforced disappearances and on other human rights defenders in Türkiye, particularly of Saturday Mothers/People. We urge the authorities to respect, facilitate and protect, instead of limiting the group’s right to gather in Galatasaray Square every Saturday to hold their peaceful protest.

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