Why are peaceful demonstrators attacked and arrested

Turkey: End police violence against protesters

Update from June 3rd

After the police withdrew from Taksim Square in Istanbul on June 1, violence there has subsided. In Istanbul as in Ankara, however, the police again used large amounts of tear gas to push back the crowds. In Ankara, demonstrators tried to get to the prime minister's residence on June 2.

According to the Interior Minister on June 2, a total of 235 demonstrations had taken place in 67 provinces by then. More than 1,000 people have been arrested and hundreds injured. However, it is very difficult to give precise details; Human Rights Watch is currently reviewing these numbers.

On the night of June 2, there were violent clashes between the police and demonstrators when they tried to get to Erdogan's official residence in the Besiktaş district of Istanbul. The police cracked down on the demonstrators with great severity.

Some young protesters threw stones and set up barricades. However, the majority of the people demonstrated peacefully. Although some shop windows were broken in Istiklal Caddesi near Taksim Square, there have been no reports of looting.

The ongoing demonstrations testify to the anger that has built up in many people. The residents of Istanbul, for example in the Kadıköy district, expressed their displeasure for the second night in a row on Sunday night: They hit pot lids, cars passing by and passers-by supported them with horn concerts and applause. The activists spent the night in Gezi Park. By the afternoon of June 3, thousands of people had gathered again in Taksim Square.


(Istanbul - June 1, 2013) - The government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is to end the excessive use of force by the police during demonstrations across the country. The government should also ensure the free exercise of the right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression.

Following the violent dissolution of peaceful protests against the government's plans to build a shopping center in Istanbul's Gezi Park, large-scale demonstrations broke out across Istanbul, spreading to Ankara and other cities in Turkey.

"The abuse of tear gas and throwing water against peaceful protesters was the last straw that broke the barrel," said Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey expert with Human Rights Watch. "The government disregards the right of the people to express their opinion and to demonstrate and thus stirs up the resentment of the Turkish population."

The protests continue and it looks as if what originally began as an environmental movement against an urban development project has become an expression of a general dissatisfaction with the government's policies - regardless of political color. So far, there has been hardly any live coverage of the events on Turkish television, but information and numerous photos are published via news portals on the Internet and social media.

According to reports from the Istanbul governor's office on May 31, there were only twelve seriously injured and 63 people were arrested by the police. However, information from eyewitnesses of the police crackdown and the number of demonstrators suggests that the number of people injured is likely to be much higher.

Human Rights Watch spoke to journalist and political scientist Ahmet Insel, who saw with his own eyes how on May 31, 2013 people were repeatedly brought to the Taksim İlk-ardım clinic in ambulances. He also reported on his visit to Alman Hastanesi, the German hospital to which a 23-year-old student from Istanbul Technical University was admitted. According to the doctors, he lost an eye when he was shot at close range by a police officer. One of the attending doctors told Insel that a rubber bullet had been removed from the student's eye.

Journalist Ahmet Şık reported that while he was going to visit Gezi Park with a delegation from the opposition Republican People's Party, CHP, including members of parliament, he was hit in the head by a gas cartridge. She was thrown by a policeman at close range. He sustained a head injury and was immediately admitted to the hospital with profuse bleeding.

"The Turkish government should have the police's procedures checked immediately and hold operations leaders whose units attacked peaceful demonstrators responsible," said Sinclair-Webb. "In addition, the government should initiate an investigation into the use of tear gas by the police, as this poses considerable health risks and can even be fatal."

Erdoğan announced on June 1 that the government would stick to its plans to redesign Gezi Park. He described the protests as a "game" and although he admitted police errors in the use of tear gas, he signaled that the security forces would not withdraw: "The police were there yesterday and the police will be there tomorrow and the day after." After the police Repeatedly used tear gas to push back thousands of demonstrators in the streets around Taksim Square and Gezi Park, she began to pull the forces away from Taksim Square by the afternoon of June 1, whereupon thousands of people came to the square and went to the park.

Human Rights Watch reported on restrictions on freedom of expression in Turkey and politicians' intolerance of dissidents, and criticized the widespread abuse of protesters by emergency services and the failure to hold police officers responsible for using excessive force.

Protests against the demolition of part of Gezi Park began on the night of May 27, when an activist tried to stop the work with a peaceful sit-in. The demolition to widen a street is in connection with an extensive tunnel construction project with which the traffic is to be guided under the square in the future. According to the protesters, the demolition was a first step in the implementation of the government's plan to build a shopping center in the tree-lined park, one of the city's few green spaces. The project is controversial because the Prime Minister pushed through the project without public participation and despite considerable opposition.

On the afternoon of May 28, after work had resumed under police protection, Sırrı Süreyya Önder, an Istanbul MP ​​for the Party of Peace and Democracy, BDP, stood in the way of the bulldozers. He criticized that no permit had been given for this part of the project and that it was therefore illegal. Önders approach brought the demolition work to a halt again. Activists then organized a peaceful sit-down and refused to leave the park.

At around 5 p.m. on May 30, the police stormed the park, the protest camp was forcibly evacuated using tear gas, at least one person was injured. The activists quickly regrouped and continued their sit-ins. On May 31st, the police stormed the park two more times. CHP MP İlhan Cihaner was one of the activists affected by the excessive use of tear gas that day.

On May 31, the main entrances to Taksim Square were cordoned off after police repeatedly pushed back groups of protesters. In the early evening, a Human Rights Watch researcher himself witnessed the events on Cumhuriyet Caddesi, a large street along the park, from the upper floors of an office building. A handful of demonstrators on Cumhuriyet Caddesi actually turned violent, throwing stones at the approaching water cannons. The police moved towards the demonstrators and repeatedly fired tear gas into the crowd, sometimes from close range. Small groups of demonstrators withdrew to the side streets and sought refuge in houses. This dragged on for hours and the demonstrators kept coming together; they cheered, sang, shouted slogans, drummed and hit the barriers that they had previously dismantled on the construction site.

CHP MP Sezgin Tanrikulu suffered a minor heart attack after a tear gas attack on May 31 and had to be hospitalized. Sırrı Süreyya Önder was hit in the shoulder and foot by a tear gas canister fired by the police.

On May 31, Avni Mutlu, the governor of Istanbul, accused the demonstrators of deliberately disseminating false information and accused protesters of not protecting the environment but simply provoking.

Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş, on the other hand, expressed his regret: They had failed to inform the activists that the demolition was related to the road works and not to the planned shopping center.