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RIGHTS >Turkey needs to improve tear gas guidelines, says Human Rights Watch

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Turkish riot policemen target protestors on July 14, 2013 on Istiklal Avenue in the center of Istanbul. AFP Photo

Turkish riot policemen target protestors on July 14, 2013 on Istiklal Avenue in the center of Istanbul. AFP Photo

Turkey needs to improve guidelines on the timing and level of use of tear gas to disperse crowds, focusing on prohibitions on direct targeting, Human Rights Watch said July 17.

Following a similar call from the European Court of Human Rights, Human Rights Watch released a report focusing on the injuries caused by excessive or violent use of tear gas, including directly shooting protesters with tear gas canisters, which could cause serious injuries, and even loss of an eye. 

The report followed the documentation of 10 cases of serious injuries, caused by police forces firing teargas canisters right at the demonstrators at close range. The cases included loss of an eye, fractures to the skull and breaking limbs. The organization also interviewed witnesses, lawyers and medical personnel, adding that the cases documented were only a minor portion of the “dozens that local medical and human rights groups recorded of people with serious head or upper body injuries.” 
One of the cases included in the report was that of Burak Ünveren who lost his left eye after being hit by a canister from close range. 31 year old protester was quoted as saying, “I would guess that the police were around forty meters away from me when they fired at me. I am almost sure that this act of violence was deliberate.” 

Another protester, a 48 year old man, was hit in the forehead after one of the policemen shot him “straight in the forehead.” 

49 year old Ergin Şahin’s leg was broken after he was hit at close range, according to report, and Hasan Kılıçgedik, who too was in the forehead, suffered from a fractured skull and broken nose. Seçil Sucu was also one of those interviewed by the group, and was injured after being hit right above her left eye, causing a six-centimeter fracture in her skull that would take two-months to recover fully. 

The report also mentions a recent circular handed to police station to reinstate guidelines on tear gas use, instructing the use of water cannons before firing tear gas, and avoiding targeting enclosed spaces like schools and hospitals. The circular however fails to clarify directly targeting protesters at close range, according to Human Rights Watch. 

Journalist Ahmet şık told Human Rights Watch that “some policemen fired the tear gas canisters in the correct way, but most of them fired them directly at the protesters, often from close range.” 

The organization also quotes a police union spokesman, who told the group that police officers are trained properly regarding the use of tear gas, but failed at “being able to analyze the situation.” 

The report stated that Turkey had “a poor record on holding the police and security forces accountable for abuses, excessive use of force, torture and other ill-treatment, and unlawful killings.”

July/17/2013

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