Attendance figure at ‘Justice Rally’ in Istanbul stirs debate

Attendance figure at ‘Justice Rally’ in Istanbul stirs debate

Attendance figure at ‘Justice Rally’ in Istanbul stirs debate

AFP photo

A bitter debate has broken out in Turkey over the number of participants at the “Justice Rally” held on July 9 in Istanbul’s Maltepe district.

In a statement on July 9, the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) said 1.6 million people attended the rally, which marked the end of the 25-day “justice march” from Istanbul to Ankara initiated by CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu after CHP deputy Enis Berberoğlu was sentenced to 25 years in jail on June 14. 

The announcer at the rally on July 9 had told the crowd gathered at the vast meeting space: “Thanks to you, we are breaking a record here today: Two million people at the Maltepe Square.”

The Istanbul Governor’s Office, however, claimed in a message posted on Twiter late on July 9 that the number of attendees stood at only 175,000, “based on the measurement of the venue’s surface area.”

The governor’s office statement was widely criticized, with even the Istanbul Office of the Chamber of Topographical Engineers getting involved in the debate. 

“The rally area of Maltepe is approximately 275,000 square meters. Participants were also located in an area that was closed to traffic, which is around 100,000 square meters. So citizens took part in the rally over a space covering 375,000 square meters,” the chamber said in a statement issued on July 10. 

“In estimating the participant number, it is usually accepted technically that three to six people are located per meter square, so it can be stated that at least 1.5 million joined the ‘Justice Rally.’ Experts say that considering the fullness of the rally area, this number could even be as hight as 2 million,” it added.  

On July 10, CHP deputy Özgür Özel joined the debate, condemning the Governor’s Office statement and comparing the “Justice Rally” with earlier rallies held at the same site. 

“The participation at [former Prime Minister Ahmet] Davutoğlu’s rally at the same site did not stand at even at three-quarters of [the Justice Rally]. Davutoğlu said at the time of his rally: ‘We are 2 million here.’ If there were 2 million at Davutoğlu’s rally, there were around 3 million people there on July 9,” he said.

“In fact, the police told us there were ‘1.6 million people inside [the rally area].’ We now understand that this governor [Istanbul Governor Vasip Şahin] is not a governor of the people. This governor is not a governor of the state. This governor has become the governor of the government, of the president. But he has forgotten something, he has forgotten to count,” Özel said, adding that the CHP will “send an abacus” to the Governor’s Office.

“We counted our every step [on the ‘justice march’]. We took 686,000 steps to reach [Istanbul from Ankara]. We counted every kilometer. We counted the drops of sweat dripping from our foreheads,” the CHP lawmaker also said.