Tight security as trial into Gezi protester’s death begins in Kayseri
KAYSERİ - Doğan News Agency
A crowd gathered in front of the Kayseri courtroom in support of the victim's family. CİHAN Photo
Police took extensive measures to cordon off the Central Anatolian city of Kayseri as the first hearing into the murder of Gezi protester Ali İsmail Korkmaz started on Feb. 3 after the trial was controversially moved outside Eskişehir, where the 19-year old was living when he was beaten to death, for “security reasons.”
Security checkpoints were placed at the entrances to the city, and buses bringing people to Kayseri in support of the murdered protester’s family were stopped by police and search one by one.
Around 2,000 police officers have been dispatched to the city, with 500 of them being drafted in from Adana, Kahramanmaraş and Kırşehir provinces.
Two TOMAs (water cannon) were placed around the court and one police helicopter is set to hover during the hearing to record and take pictures from above. The nearby streets heading to the court were also closed in the morning.
The victim’s family was greeted with applause as they entered the courtroom. Emel Korkmaz, the victim’s mother, displayed photographs at the murder suspects. “How could you kill my son without pity? What has he done to you? How can you look at your own children?” she said, daily Hürriyet reported.
A total of eight murder suspects, including four police officers, are being tried in Kayseri’s old courthouse, because it has bigger rooms than the new one, as well as due to security measures.
Gendarmes formed a line between the suspects and Korkmaz's supporters as tensions rose in the courtroom. There were also occasional altercations between police officers and protesters outside the building, as demonstrators staged a massive rally in support of Korkmaz. Protesters shouted slogans like "Ali İsmail Korkmaz is immortal," and "Ali İsmail is here, where's Bilal?" in reference to the prime minister's son, who is suspected of engaging in massive corruption.
During questioning by the victim's lawyers, the suspects denied administering the fatal beating to Korkmaz, with some saying they did not remembered who gave the order to deploy to the street to wait for escaping protesters.
Key suspect M.S., a police officer, denied that he had not attacked against Korkmaz, saying the person his group hit with sticks was “much taller.” Arguing that the person on the ground swore at him, he said he lightly poked the victim with his foot instead of delivering a fatal blow.
The defense infuriated Korkmaz’s brother, Gürkan Korkmaz, who shouted, “If he all he did was swear at you, then he didn’t do much.”
M.S. also rejected his earlier testimony that he had "kicked" Korkmaz, saying he made the statement under duress.
During the reading of the indictment, the court heard how police officer M.S. said, "My foot was already sore, so I don't think I kicked him that hard."
According to the indictment read in the court, the suspects said, “We nicely blew off some steam” after beating Korkmaz, daily Radikal reported. The suspects claimed that the young student insulted them, although witnesses said Korkmaz begged the assailants to stop beating him.
The families of a number of other people who were killed during the Gezi protests, together with the Contemporary Lawyers' Association (ÇHD), demanded that they also be allowed to become party to the case, but the court refused their demand, saying it would only permit Korkmaz's family to become litigants in the trial.
One man was removed from the courtroom after one of the spectators, Pınar Aydınlar, the People's Democratic Party's (HDP) candidate for co-mayor in Istanbul, suspected that he was illegally concealing a firearm in the courtroom. The man, identified as İ.K., was reportedly a military sergeant, as well as a relative of M.S.
But Kayseri Gov. Orhan Düzgün immediately denied that the object in question was a weapon. “One of the lawyers who came to follow the trial thought that the solid object (a mobile phone) was a gun. Reports that guns have been found in the hearing room are false,” Düzgün said via Twitter.
Lawyers for the family, meanwhile, complained that the court was too small and was not equipped with a sufficient sound system, arguing that the shortcomings would hamper the chance for a fair trial. Metin Feyzioğlu, the head of the Union of the Turkish Bars, also attended the trial. Feyzioğlu will serve as a lawyer throughout the trial among the victims' team of lawyers.
Some protesters traveling to Kayseri in rented buses attempted to elude police cordons around the city by posting signs in the vehicles' front windows saying the bus belonged to the National Intelligency Organization (MİT) and the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (İHH), in reference to recent incidents in which trucks allegedly carrying ammunition to Syria were stopped in southern Turkey, only to be allowed to pass because the vehicles reportedly belonged to the country's spy agency. One spectator in the court shouted "dogs" at the police officers on trial, prompting a family member to remonstrate with the spectator, asking the person not to insult canines by likening them to officers.
The case has been divided into four, as witnesses were set to testify in Eskişehir and Ankara, the family of Korkmaz was to testify in Hatay while the main case was set to be held in Kayseri, drawing criticism from Gezi protesters for the perception that the main trial was being exiled to a conservative city in an effort to prevent protests.
The other trial, in which 25 witnesses were set to testify, has been suspended until Feb. 28 after lawyers of the Korkmaz family made an appeal, saying the witnesses should be heard after the criminal proceedings first begin against the suspects. The trial was originally set to be held on Jan. 6.
Korkmaz, 19, was beaten with sticks by plainclothes men during the Gezi protests in Eskişehir on June 2, 2013; he died of a brain hemorrhage on July 10 after spending 38 days in a coma. Eskişehir Gov. Azim Tuna, invited derision and rage after the event by claiming that Korkmaz's friends had beaten the protester in an attempt to show the police in a bad light. Tuna subsequently also sent threatening emails to daily Radikal reporter İsmail Saymaz, who has been instrumental in publicizing the details of the case.