Turkey: Open letter to the President and the Minister of the Interior on the Saturday Mothers/People vigil

23/06/2022
Open Letter
en tr
Ozan Kose / AFP

June 23, 2022. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (partnership of the International Federation for Human Rights-FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture-OMCT) encourages Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President of the Republic of Turkey, and Mr. Süleyman Soylu, Minister of Interior, to lift this specific ban in Turkey, so the Saturday Mothers be allowed to hold their weekly peaceful vigils on June 25, 2022, and all the others afterwards.

To
Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
President of the Republic of Turkey

Mr. Süleyman Soylu
Minister of Interior

Dear Mr. President, Mr. Minister,

Saturday Mothers/Saturday People and the relatives of the forcibly disappeared initiated peaceful vigils in memory of their loved ones on May 27, 1995 in collaboration with the Commission against Enforced Disappearances at Human Rights Association (İnsan Hakları Derneği – İHD)’s local İstanbul branch in front of Lycée de Galatasaray on İstiklal Street in İstanbul’s Beyoğlu District.

These peaceful vigils were held for 200 weeks, and subsequently suspended in 1999. The vigils were re-initiated on February 27, 2009 after a long hiatus and maintained non-stop until August 25, 2018. The 700th vigil of the Saturday Mothers could not be held on August 25, 2018 due to a ban decision delivered by the Beyoğlu District Governor’s Office upon an order by the Ministry of Interior. The following 701st vigil had to be held before IHD’s İstanbul branch, and subsequent vigils were met with harsh police interventions and detentions. Currently the vigils are being held on social media due to the measures taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have mostly been lifted in Turkey.

June 25, 2022 will mark the 900th week of these symbolic sit-ins. The small square in front of Lycée de Galatasaray where the vigils were initially held has now become a “memory space” for the Saturday Mothers and human rights defenders alike. This is the reason for the wish of the Saturday Mothers/Saturday People, the relatives of the forcibly disappeared as well as human rights defenders to hold their peaceful vigils in memory of their loved ones on their 900th week in front of Lycée de Galatasaray on June 25, 2022. İstanbul Governor’s Office, however, has not yet responded to their meeting request, while the police ban is still in effect for the square where the vigils were normally held.

This long-term ban touches upon the essence of the right to freedom of assembly, making this right in practice non-exercisable. Under international law, restrictions on freedom of assembly on the basis of public health concerns may be justifiable, provided that they meet international standards for rights limitations in times of emergency. Namely, in order to be lawful under international law, restrictions on human rights and fundamental freedoms must be necessary and proportionate, prescribed by law, limited in time, and non-discriminatory in nature. Moreover, in April 2020, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to peaceful assembly and association underlined in a press statement that: “It is inadmissible to declare blanket restrictions on human rights and fundamental freedoms. [...] It is imperative the [COVID-19] crisis not be used as a pretext to suppress rights in general or the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in particular”. The current ban on the vigils at the square in front of Lycée de Galatasaray seems to be unlimited in time and discriminatory as it specifically impedes the Saturday Mothers/Saturday People to exercise their freedom of assembly.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a FIDH-OMCT partnership) therefore encourages you to lift this specific ban, so the Saturday Mothers be allowed to hold their weekly peaceful vigils on June 25, 2022, and all the others afterwards.

Yours faithfully,

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

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