Saturday, 21 June 2014

Adding Injustice to Injury: One Year on From the Gezi Park Protests in Turkey

Tear gas attack against mourners of Berkin Elvan © Unknown | Revolution News
(Revolution News)
by Public Seminar: http://www.publicseminar.org/2014/06/adding-injustice-to-injury

Our colleague, Zeyno Ustun, is back in Istanbul this month. We corresponded about the situation there on the occasion of the anniversary of the Gezi protests. 

She reports political paralysis with maximum police presence and sent a report from Amnesty International that she judges to summarize the situation accurately.

Zeyno came across the following piece in Revolution News. It is re-posted here with permission - Jeff Goldfarb

The repression of peaceful protest and the use of abusive force by police continues unabated one year after the Gezi Park protests.

Across Turkey, more than 5,500 people have been prosecuted in connection with the Gezi Park protests. Only five prosecutions have been brought against nine police officers, despite hundreds of complaints of police abuses.

Medical associations, doctors, and other civil servants have faced sanction and prison sentences for their alleged care of injured protesters.

Social media users are on trial and facing prison sentences for sharing information about the protests.
New laws restrict access to social media and criminalize the provision of emergency medical care during protests.

One year on from the Gezi Park protests, the government’s approach to demonstrations is as abusive as ever while impunity for police violence is rampant, Amnesty International said in a report on June 9.

“The Turkish authorities have been relentless in their crackdown on protesters - be it police violence on the streets or by prosecuting them through the courts. Meanwhile the police enjoy near total impunity. The message is clear: peaceful demonstrations will not be tolerated,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

“Just in the last ten days, demonstrations across Turkey to mark the anniversary of the Gezi Park protests were banned and arbitrarily and brutally dispersed with tear gas, water cannons, and beatings. The government must change course, allow peaceful protest, and ensure accountability for police abuses.”

Amnesty International’s report, Adding Injustice to Injury: One Year On from the Gezi Park Protests in Turkey, examines developments following the small protest against the destruction of the park in central Istanbul that spiraled into nationwide anti-government demonstrations. 

It calls on the Turkish authorities to end impunity for human rights abuses by law enforcement officials and to guarantee the right to peaceful assembly.

Gezi protest, Taksim Square, Istanbul on June 15, 2013 © Fleshstorm | Wikimedia Commons
Gezi protest, Taksim Square, Istanbul on June 15, 2013 © Fleshstorm | Wikimedia Commons

Eight thousand people were injured during the Gezi Park protests and 11 people died as a result of police violence, but investigations into police abuses have stalled, been obstructed, or closed.

Only five separate prosecutions have been brought against police officers to date. In stark contrast, more than 5,500 people face prosecution for organizing, participating in, or supporting the Gezi Park protests. Many are being prosecuted for nothing more than peacefully exercising their right to freedom of assembly.

Protest organizers are being prosecuted for “founding a criminal organization” while scores have been charged with unsubstantiated terrorism offences.

“The government must revise the law on demonstrations, remove excessive restrictions on where and when demonstrations can take place, and repeal provisions used to criminalize peaceful protest,” said Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s researcher on Turkey.

Doctors have been disciplined and, in two cases, criminally prosecuted for providing first aid in makeshift medical clinics during the Gezi Park protests. 

In January 2014, the government introduced legislative amendments that could be used to support criminal punishment of those who provide emergency medical treatment during protests.

In a crude violation of the right to freedom of expression, criminal investigations have been started against commentators who documented the protests. These investigations were followed by random prosecutions of people posting opinions on social media during the protests. Increased powers to shut down websites have been introduced.

“One year on from the Gezi Park protests, the Turkish authorities seem to be firmly set on the path of intolerance, conflict, and polarization. Unless checked, this will lead to further violations of human rights in the country,” said Salil Shetty.

“It is not too late for the government to change course. However, this requires the political will to acknowledge legitimate grievances and reach out to the disaffected; to accept criticism and to respect the right to freedom of assembly; to stay the prosecution of peaceful protesters and to ensure accountability for police abuses.”
* * *

Demonstrators overwhelmed by tear gas during Gezi anniversary protests © Unknown | Revolution News
Demonstrators overwhelmed by tear gas during Gezi anniversary protests © Unknown | Revolution News

Cases:

On June 3, 2013, Hakan Yaman was beaten up and thrown on a fire by four riot police officers and a person in plain clothes operating next to a water cannon vehicle. A witness recorded the incident on his mobile phone. Despite the number of the water cannon vehicle being visible in the video, the Istanbul police authorities have failed to reveal the identities of the officers assigned to work alongside it.

Five members of Taksim Solidarity, a coalition of over 100 NGOs, political groups, and professional bodies that came together to oppose the redevelopment of Gezi Park, stand accused of “founding a criminal organization,” “provoking others to participate in an unauthorized demonstration,” and “refusing to disperse from an unauthorized demonstration.” There is no evidence in the indictment that the five people participated in or incited violence or engaged in any other conduct not protected by human rights law. All five face up to 15 years imprisonment.

Twenty-nine young people in Izmir are on trial for “inciting the public to break the law” via social media posts. Three of the defendants are additionally charged with defaming the Prime Minister. The case is based entirely on tweets that were sent about the first weekend of the protests. They provide information, such as available wireless passwords and locations where the police were using force against demonstrators, or contain opinions and messages of support for the demonstrations. None of the tweets in the indictment contains any incitement to, or indication of participation in, violence. A number of the tweets is said to defame the Prime Minister, who intervened in the case and is listed as a “victim.” After two hearings, the case was postponed until July 14, 2014.

This article was originally published by Revolution News.

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