Letter for Gezi Park
Mr Thorbjørn Jagland
Council of Europe
F-67075 Strasbourg Cedex
Your Excellency Jegrand,
I kindly would like to inform you those recent developments in Turkey;
- After one of the walls of Gezi Park was demolished and a number of trees were removed for the construction of Artillery Barracks in Istanbul Taksim Square at the night of 27 May 2013, approximately 50 people initiated entirely peaceful demonstrations in order to prevent the demolition of the Park in such a way as not to harm anyone in Gezi Park.
- Police units responded to the crowd gathered in Gezi Park for protests and demonstrations using disproportionate force, and this force has, up until now, reached a level of violence against individuals. Tear gases and water cannons have been fired on the crowd intensely and continuously.
- This violence inflicted by the police forces whose primary duty is to protect the safety of the life and property of the public on the people during these innocent demonstrations and the condescending, insulting and even targeting statements of government officials against the protestors have given rise to the further dissemination of protests.
- The most important factor fuelling the incidents is the irresponsible use of tear gas by the law enforcement units on the people exercising the freedom of speech and assembly. The law enforcement units have fired tear gas bombs on everyone they have encountered in the streets, irrespective of whether they have taken part in the demonstrations or not, and even into the indoor spaces such as hotel lobbies, restaurants and houses with the aim of, so to speak, "punishing" the protestors. Most of the injuries resulted from the use of gas bomb guns parallel to the ground, targeting the individuals to cause harm on them.
- Protests and demonstrations have been staged by thousands of people in many metropolises, especially in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Adana, Bursa, Antalya, Eskisehir, Hatay since 27 May 2013 and the police forces have responded to each and every one of these protests using widespread and systematic violence.
- As a result, the protests which have started to prevent the destruction of the last remaining green space in Taksim Square in Istanbul have extended far beyond the protection of Gezi Park as detailed in Resolution No. B7-/2013 of the European Parliament of 12.06.2013 and turned the law amendments and government practices into protests, which are likely to cause interventions in the lifestyles of the people, introduce restrictions on the daily lives and ignore the sentiments of some segments of the society contrary to the pluralistic democracy. The protestors also have intense concerns about fair trial and independent and impartial judiciary.
- On 31 May 2013 when the protests were tried to be suppressed by intensive violence by the enforcement units, all news channels in the mainstream media followed their normal broadcast streams and the international TV channels broadcast the demonstrations live. Close business relationships of the media employers with the government circles and the pressure exerted on the media by the government have been pointed out to be the reasons underlying the failure of the exercise of freedom of expression. A variety of administrative fines have been imposed by the Radio and Television Supreme Council on television channels which have been trying to make comprehensive and impartial broadcasts with regard to protests.
- As a result of the pressure exerted on the media, the public has been deprived of the right to receive information, and the photos, video recordings and news regarding the incidents have quickly spread through the social media. #occupygezi and #DirenGeziParki hash tags have been created on Twitter by the protestors, and more than 2 million tweets, 88% in Turkish and 90% from Turkey, were tweeted regarding the incidents only on 31 May 2013. After the Prime Minister said "There is now a menace called Twitter. Unmitigated lies are there. To me, social media is a troublemaker for societies today", some of the young people who tweeted pro-protest tweets were detained in Izmir and Adana. This has caused an increasing uneasiness with the people.
- According to the report by the Turkish Medical Association dated 14 June 2013, a total of 7495 people, 55 being heavily injured, have been wounded due to water cannons, short-range shots of tear gas canisters and other forms of violence. Among those who have been badly wounded, there are some people who still carry a risk of death; ten people have suffered a visual loss and there are severe fractures in the bodies of dozens of people. 4 of our citizens lost their lives in the protests. The Ministry of Health has launched an investigation against physicians who provide health services on a voluntary basis for citizens who have been wounded during the demonstrations.
- It has been determined that many police officers who intervened in the events concealed their ranks and registration numbers.
- Our colleagues who wanted to draw attention to the unlawful, widespread and systematic violence inflicted on the people by the police forces and thus, called for the prosecutors to take action were beaten, handcuffed, dragged on the floor and taken out of Caglayan Courthouse, their robes torn, by the riot police and taken by a bus to the Police Headquarters in Istanbul on 11 June 2013. This violence used against our colleagues by the law enforcement units has been severely condemned by the Union of Turkish Bar Associations and 68 other bars, and protest marches have been organized in many cities.
- We requested from Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office to open a criminal investigation against the public officials and governors who resorted to violence, connived at it, instigated or abetted it on 1 June 2013. We have been waiting for the impartial and effective judicial-administrative investigations to be carried out immediately and without delay. However, the statement of the Minister of the EU Affairs as, "Unfortunately, the Government, from now on, will have to consider each person there to be a member of a terrorist organization"; a banner which read as "Honourable Turkish Police, Ankara is Proud of You" hung by Ankara Metropolitan Municipality in Güvenpark which is the place where Ethem Sarısülük, a protestor, was most probably killed by a police bullet, and this kind of statements and behaviours by the officials have dashed our hopes regarding the initiation of impartial and effective criminal investigations.
- On the evening of 15 June 2013 when the demonstrations started to go into decline thanks to suggestions from various segments and were likely to come to an end if patience was shown a little while, an intervention was carried out in Gezi Park in Istanbul's Taksim Square using tear gas canisters and water cannons. It has been learnt that rubber bullets were used during the intervention. A lot of people have been injured due to the use of gas canister rifles targeting people and excessive use of tear gas canisters, and among those injured, there are some people who still face with the risk of death. Approximately 500 people were caught in Ankara and Istanbul only on 15 June 2013. These incidents which should never happen in democratic states of law have caused permanent wounds in society. Suppression of the freedom of peaceful assembly and demonstration violently by the police and the provocation of the segments of society against others who exercise their freedom of peaceful assembly and demonstration by the political power have put the democracy at risk.
- Since 27 May 2013, Article 3 regulating the prohibition of torture, Article 5 regulating the right to liberty and security of person, Article 10 regulating the freedom of expression and Article 11 regulating the right to freedom of peaceful assembly of the European Convention of Human Rights have been systematically violated due to interventions against protestors in Taksim Gezi Park. Rulings of the European Court of Human Rights against Turkey in cases such as Oya Ataman/Turkey (74552/01), Samüt Karabulut/Turkey (16999/04), Ali Güneş/Turkey (9829/07), Arpat/Turkey (26730/05), Gülizar Tuncer/Turkey (12903/02), Umar Karatepe/Turkey (20502/05) set precedent in this respect.
- According to Article 110 of the Attorneyship Law, "defending and preserving the rule of law and human rights and executing these values" are the primary duties of the Union of Turkish Bar Associations.
- In this context, according to Article 52 of the European Convention on Human Rights, "On receipt of a request from the Secretary General of the Council of Europe any High Contracting Party shall furnish an explanation of the manner in which its internal law ensures the effective implementation of any of the provisions of the Convention." We kindly request you to ask for an explanation from the High Contracting Party Republic of Turkey as to how Articles 3, 5, 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights have been actually implemented within the context of Taksim Gezi Park protests, and take duly action accordingly.
Prof Dr Metin FEYZİOĞLU
Attorney at Law
Union of Turkish Bar Associations