Turkey: Growing and worrying repression of protesters and civil society

Press release
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Authorities failing to prosecute crimes against protesters.

Following the death of a fifth protester, the FIDH deplores the response to the demonstrations that have been held throughout Turkey since 28 May. Rather than promoting reconciliation and ensuring that Turkey’s citizens are protected and freedom of speech respected, the authorities are engaging in a veritable "witch hunt" against protesters, observers and the assistance given to peaceful demonstrators, and fail to adopt a dissuasive behaviour notably against members of the public force notably following their patently disproportionately use of force.

Death of a fifth protester

Ali Ismail Korkmaz, a 19-year-old student, died in hospital in Eskisehir on 10 July from injuries sustained in the 2 June demonstrations. As he fled tear gas and water cannon, the student came across a group of people, alleged by several witness statements to have been plain-clothes police officers, who gave him a savage beating. He managed to make his way to Eskisehir’s Yunus Emre Public Hospital despite his injuries but doctors there sent him to make a statement at the police station. Subsequently, he remained in intensive care and finally succumbed to his injuries following a brain hemorrhage. The Eskisehir Medical Association has opened an inquiry and has been awaiting an explanation for two weeks. Perfectly clear pictures of the murder from a hotel surveillance camera became unusable after being seized by the police.
On the occasion of his funerals, held on July 11 in Hatay, the police attacked demonstrators. Among the numerous wounded, İbrahim Koçak has been hit in a head by a tear gas canister and remains in intensive care.

Assailants going unpunished

On numerous occasions, several individuals in plain clothes have attacked peaceful protesters.

On Saturday 6 July, amateur videos showed one individual in particular, armed with a machete, chasing and attacking peaceful protesters. Others have revealed passivity, even indulgence, on the part of police officers who were present during and witnesses to the violence against the protesters.

Similarly, the police officer responsible for killing Ethem Sarisuluk, who died on 14 June after 14 days in a coma, has been released and is currently under police protection. Despite clearly misusing his firearm, as confirmed in a report by court-appointed experts, the police officer remains in his post. Sarisuluk’s family has also condemned the destruction of evidence; when the shots in question were fired, the state video surveillance (MOBESE) camera suddenly changed frames and missed the footage of the murder.

All in all, since the protests began and even though a fifth person has succumbed to his wounds, no inquiry has resulted in anyone being taken into custody.

This extremely worrying situation leads to fears that there will be no prosecutions or serious police investigations and such de facto impunity surely encourages gross and flagrant violations against citizens.

The FIDH recalls the need for criminal prosecutions and appropriate penalties for violence of this kind to avoid needlessly undermining public trust in the judiciary.

It notes the many dysfunctions revealed during judicial investigations and recalls the impartiality required of investigating magistrates.

Ongoing ban on demonstrations, "witch hunt" against protest participants, observers and first aid providers

In an initial ruling on 31 May 2013, Istanbul Administrative Court No. 6 suspended work that had begun in Gezi Park. The applicants were notified of the ruling which was confrmed by Istanbul Administrative Court No. 1 despite an appeal from Turkey’s culture minister, on 2 July 2013.

In the wake of the court ruling, on Monday, 8 July, Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu announced that Gezi Park would reopen. The movement behind the protests, Taksim Solidarity, urged its sympathizers to gather at the park. Two and a half hours after it was reopened, the police ordered the park to be evacuated on no legitimate grounds and in breach of the right of assembly and peaceful demonstration covered by Article 34 of Turkey’s Constitution. Once again, the police made disproportionate and improper use of tear gas. Fifty people were arrested and taken into custody, 35 of them members of Taksim Solidarity. They were kept in detention till July 12th. In parallel, the homes of Taksim Solidarity members, were searched on the basis of Articles 166-122 and 127 of the Turkish Criminal Code. Without cause and in violation of the rules of Turkish penal legislation, the police proceded to seize hard discs without providing copies to the lawyers in attendance.

Mücella Yapici, architect and coordinator of the Taksim Solidarity movement, and Ali Çerkezoğlu, general secretary of the Istanbul Medical Association, active in coordinating medical assistance for injured protesters, were detained respectively for 48 and 72 hours.1

According to information from Reporters Without Borders, 12 journalists who were covering the 6 July demonstrations were arrested by police. Others were attacked and intimidated: Yunus Dalgiç et Arif Balkan from the daily, Milliyet (Nation); Gökhan Biçici from IMC TV; Elif Akgül from online newspaper Bianet; Baris Yarkadas from news website Gercek Gündem; Dilem Tastan from the daily, Sol (Left); Sengül Derin from Ulusal Kanal (National Channel); Onur Erdem from the daily, Birgün (Day); Makbule Cengiz from Halk TV (People TV); Bestegül Öneren and Selçuk Özmen from the leftwing nationalist daily, Aydinlik (Clarity), and Özcan Yaman, Evrim Kurdoglu, Tugçe Tatari.

Elsewhere, the criminalization of any political activity by the opposition continues2. After the arrests at SDP headquarters on 11 June, the headquarters of the Turkish Communist Party (TKP) near Istiklal was raided on 6 July by police who made 23 arrests.

Moreover, on the night of 8-9 July, on the fringes of the Taksim Square evacuation, police officers attempted on three occasions to force their way without a warrant of any kind into the headquarters of the Istanbul section of Turkey’s Human Rights Association (IHD). As much an observer as a mediator during the protests, the IHD has also, since 28 May, been recording human rights violations reported by protesters or victims who had not taken part in the protests

Lastly, arrested protesters’ defence lawyers have again been assaulted at the Caglayan Courthouse without the Prosecutor’s Office bringing any prosecutions.

From the point of view of the principles of the FIDH, these intimidations, arrests and searches are in flagrant violation of the legal obligations incumbent upon the law-enforcement agencies.

Tougher policies and the reform of town-planning procedures

Since the start of the Taksim Square protests, the professional chambers of architecture, town-planning and the preservation of monuments have condemned, particularly in court, the failure to consult them over an urban development on such a scale.

The Turkish government, reminded of its obligations by the professional chambers of architecture and town-planning, introduced a law in retaliation which was passed on July 9th by the parliament, which ruled to relieve them of all such obligations in future by removing the need to consult professional chambers. 

The FIDH regrets this political choice which will only aggravate an already tense political situation.

Consequently, the FIDH recalls its recommendations to the Turkish authorities to:

 guarantee the legitimate right to peaceful protest, including protests against democratically elected governments;

 guarantee the exercise of free speech;

 release all peaceful protesters who were exercising their constitutional right, a right also guaranteed by Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights;

 put an immediate end to all acts of police violence against the protesters;

 set up an independent and impartial international commission of inquiry into the disproportionate use of force by the law-enforcement agencies;

 ensure that the individuals responsible for human rights violations are prosecuted and brought to trial.

In addition, the FIDH calls upon the international community to:

 condemn the disproportionate use of force against the protesters in the clearest possible terms;

 condemn the systematic recourse to tear gas and water cannon and the use of this gas in confined spaces, condemn the use of rubber bullets and call for the establishment of an independent international commission of inquiry;

 suspend all sales and exports of tear gas and riot control equipment until the inquiries into the excessive or disproportionate recourse to force by members of the law-enforcement agencies have been held and recognized.

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