183 people killed by police bullets in seven years
It was the year 2007, the month was May. Because of the Constitutional Court’s decision of the quorum of 367 members, Turkey was not able to elect its president and its political agenda was tangled.
The government, which received a midnight memorandum from the office of the chief of general staff because of the presidential elections, did two things simultaneously. First, it passed in parliament the decision to hold elections in July. Second, it made the constitutional amendment for the president to be elected by popular vote from then on.
You may think these were hot topics that constituted an exciting agenda, but you are wrong. In the same tangled month of May when the danger of a coup was felt in the air, parliament made amendments in the Law of Police Powers. There were many controversial articles in the amendments, but Article 16 was the most controversial of all.
Amid those complicated days, the objections of human rights organizations and some journalists faded and this clause on the use of force and use of arms by the police was approved by President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who used to veto almost everything, and came into effect as a law.
The article’s last two sub-clauses state that the police would loudly call the person to stop before using arms. In the case that the person does not comply and continues to run, first a warning shot would be fired. If the person insists on running away, then arms are to be used with the aim of catching the person.
While the police are using their power to use force or arms while stopping a resistance or for the aim of catching a suspect, in the case of an attempted armed attack against them, they can shoot to avert the attack.
These two short paragraphs, which sound simple and logical and if compared to the amendments of today, which look like a blessing, were approved on June 2, 2007 and were printed on June 14, 2007 in the Official Gazette, the date of it going into effect. Only two years after this date, the report by Turkey’s Human Rights Foundation (TİHV) had bitter figures: Police, based on this power, had taken a total of 53 lives in two years.
Well, what about the seven years of practicing this law? Head of MAZLUMDER Mehmet Ali Devecioğlu referred to his statement concerning the homeland security bill, which is being debated in parliament. He said the number of those who died in these seven years from police bullets has reached 183.
In the MAZLUMDER report, the seven-year figures do not have a breakdown of who died under which conditions, but in the two-year report of the TİHV, out of 53 people, 29 of them were those who did not comply with the “stop” order on the street, while nine were shot by policed during protest demonstrations.
These figures are the result of an article of the law that the government today considers inadequate. We cannot even imagine the figures that will emerge when the articles of the law come into effect tomorrow, when the police will directly start shooting people wearing masks in an “illegal” demonstration or those who they suspect are carrying things like Molotov cocktails.
During the Gezi Park protests in Ankara, Ethem Sarısülük lost his life from a police bullet. The police officer charged with his death was tried and sentenced to seven years and nine months of imprisonment. The Office of the Chief Prosecutor of Supreme Court of Appeals has started legal procedures to revoke this sentence against the defendant.
If the homeland security package being debated today was in effect on the day Sarısülük was killed in June 2013, most probably that police officer would not even be tried.
This is the difference.
Police powers that are never enough
The new package not only expands the powers of police to use arms. One of the new powers introduced in the package is the power for a body search of individuals; although this power is already present in Article 9 of the current law. It is not possible to understand why this power, called “a search for precaution,” which is currently practiced with the permission of the police’s own supervisor, is not adequate for the police.
Another issue is the power of the police to detain. The current law’s Article 13 says police can catch and hold “those who have strong evidence, traces, marks or indications of having committed a crime or an attempted crime.”
There is no explanation why this power is not adequate, or more precisely, the explanation brought is not quite convincing.