A riot police fires tear gas at demonstrators during a protest in Istanbul, Turkey (Photo Credit: Bulent Doruk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images).
In Turkey, police violence against peaceful protestors continues. It is time for the world community to make its condemnation clear, not only through words, but through action. In this, Turkey’s most important ally, the United States, should take the lead.
In June and July, the world was galvanized by scenes of police violence against peaceful protestors in Turkey. Turkish police rained more than a hundred thousand tear gas canisters on its own citizens as they exercised their basic rights of freedom of expression and assembly. Hundreds of thousands of concerned individuals across the globe raised their voices against the abuses.
A Turkish police officer beats a demonstrator as people try to stop him during a protest near the entrance of Taksim Square in Istanbul (Photo Credit: Gurcan Ozturk/AFP/Getty Images).
The saying is almost the same in Turkish, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. On June 29, the New York Times published an op-ed by Turkish EU Minister, Egemen Bağış, in which he defended Turkey by arguing that the Gezi protests were evidence of Turkey’s mature democracy, describing protestors as a manifestation of a “vibrant civil society.” As noted in a brilliant take-down by my colleague at Amnesty USA, Bill Jones, this is the same Bağış who a few short weeks earlier had warned, at the height of the protests:
From now on, the state will unfortunately have to consider everyone who remains there a supporter or member of a terror organization…
Our prime minister has already assured [activists] about their aim with the protests. The protests from now on will play into the hands of some separatist organizations that want to break the peace and prioritize vandalism and terrorism.
Turkish gendarmerie and riot police fire water cannon and tear gas as they clash with hundreds of protesters trying to enter a courthouse in Silivri near Istanbul (Photo Credit: Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images).
The Ergenekon trial, which came to a close this week, is without question, one of the most important court cases in Turkish history. The case involved an alleged coup plot against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the successful prosecution would seem another chapter in the AKP’s important efforts in reigning in illegal and anti-democratic actions by the Turkish armed services.
I’d like this to be a simple story of military power being brought under the control of an elected civilian government. Unfortunately, the Ergenekon story is also one of missed opportunities and justice denied. The Ergenekon trial had enormous potential to uncover the crimes of the past and set the tone for real justice in the new Turkey. It failed on both these accounts.
Turkish policeman detain a protestor during a protest on Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul (Photo Credit: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images).
Ugly police violence and repression of freedom of speech and of assembly continue in Turkey, where attempts to stage protests in Taksim Square have been repeatedly suppressed with water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets in the past few days.
The toll has been heavy. As an Amnesty statement released on July 9 notes, “[according] to the Istanbul Medical Association at least 30 people were injured yesterday including a 17 year-old… who is in a critical condition with head injuries after he was hit with a gas canister.”
Meanwhile, 19-year-old Ali İsmail Korkmaz succumbed to his wounds this week, the fifth confirmed death in the violence. According to newspaper reports, Korkmaz was injured during protests in Eskişehir on June 2, when he attempted to escape police tear gas and was “brutally beaten by a group wearing civilian clothes.” No arrests have been made in the case. He was nineteen years old.
Freedom of expression is a right we have to value and protect, which is why I’m joining Amnesty to demand justice for the thousands of peaceful protesters who have been injured due to police violence in Turkey.
The use of excessive force to disperse peaceful protesters is not uncommon in Turkey, but since the clashes in Taksim Square began on May 28th, it has reached unprecedented levels within the country. What began as a small protest against the demolition of one of the last green spaces in Turkey has turned into a national crisis and commanded international attention.
The situation in Turkey is spiraling out of control. Turkish authorities have failed to step in to curb abuses by the police and help their own citizens. Thousands have been injured and that number will continue to rise unless the authorities bring police tactics in line with basic human rights standards.
Taksim Square under police control today (Photo Courtesty: Ahmet Şık/ NarPhotos).
I [miss] the days I used social media to connect with my high school friends. In #istanbul, it’s only used to ask “are you safe” these days
So writes one of my friends in Istanbul today after a weekend of some of the most shocking police violence that Turkey has seen in years. It will take many days, weeks, and perhaps years to understand the full cost and ramifications of the storming of Taksim Square that occurred Saturday night.
We do not know yet, for example, how many were injured, but the promiscuous use of water cannon and tear gas against protesters, by-standers, journalists, and medical personnel suggests the numbers will be very large. There are additional reports, which I have not yet been able to confirm, of the use of plastic bullets. Tear gas was hurled into buildings like the Divan Hotel, where people sought refuge. Video footage shows a water cannon was directed at the inner courtyard of the German Hospital down the road from Taksim.
We had a makeshift hospital here for two days. We used our desks and tables as beds for injured people, there were sleeping bags on the floor, and medicine and food everywhere. On June 11, we finally had time to clean up the mess and put our desks and computers back.
Demonstrators try to escape from riot police on June 11, 2013 on Taksim square in Istanbul. Riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to clear protesters as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned he would show ‘no more tolerance’ for the unrelenting mass demonstrations against his Islamic-rooted government (Photo Credit: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP/Getty Images).
As international condemnation of Turkish police repression against peaceful protesters continues, the Turkish government doubled down today with an early morning raid on Taksim Square.
Istanbul’s Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu assured the public that the intervention was only to remove some banners. Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s researcher on Turkey reports “[when] we met with the Governor this afternoon, he continued to insist that the police were using appropriate force in pursuit of legitimate goals. Neither of these claims is consistent with the reality on the ground.”