Minister warns police on pepper gas usage

Minister warns police on pepper gas usage

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Minister warns police on pepper gas usage

Metin Lokumcu (R) died after being affected by pepper gas during a protest. DHA photo

Turkey’s minister of health has warned the Turkish police to use pepper gas “proportionally” during demonstrations.

Speaking at Parliament’s general assembly, Recep Akdağ said, “Police should use pepper gas as proportionally as possible. They must also warn people before using it that they can experience serious health problems.”

So far the deaths of two people have been linked to the use of extreme force by police in Turkey. Çayan Birben, a 31-year-old Yalova man, was killed when police intervened in a dispute using pepper gas on May 27. Birben suffered an asthma attack and reportedly asked the police to stop using the gas, which they refused to do.

Melike Korkmaz, the lawyer representing Birben’s family, said Akdağ’s statements were in vain as the police were obstructing and hindering the Birbens’ case by “affecting the autopsy report.”

“Doctors and police have obstructed the evidence in Birben case. The traces of the pepper gas were removed from Çayan’s body when oxygen was used to bring him back to life. I had asked the doctors to keep a report immediately after Çayan was hospitalized, but they did not,” she told the Hürriyet Daily News yesterday.

A protester also died after being affected by pepper gas use during demonstrations against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on May 31, 2011, in the Black Sea town of Hopa. An autopsy report, however, claimed he died due to a pre-existing heart and lung disease.

Akdağ said pepper gas may affect some people worse than others, especially those who suffer from asthma, cardiac diseases and allergies.

“Police must warn the people before using it. I cannot be considered an expert about providing security, but for sure police forces should take the necessary measures to prevent serious [health] problems,” he said.

A deputy from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) opposed Akdağ’s statement and implied support for the use of pepper gas. He said if evidence was present showing the gas to be harmful Akdağ should “then not let them use it.” Akdağ replied that they could not leave police forces “desperate” in necessary situations.

“The police are working for the safety of all people, of course they have to act proportionally and they are being educated in this frame. Maybe some exceptional mistakes were made, but we cannot put all the blame on pepper gas. Pepper gas is being used in other countries, but a warning is needed before use,” he said.

Police in Turkey often use pepper gas and pressurized water as weapons. The European Court of Human Rights fined Turkey in April, defining the use of “[pepper] gas as “torture” and an abuse of the third article of the convention.”