Full flow in rights violations in tear gas

Full flow in rights violations in tear gas

In the first anniversary of the Gezi incidents last Saturday, May 31, especially in Istanbul, there were zone blocks through an army of police of unprecedented magnitude and the usual extremely excess use of force from the police. Once more, remarkable photographs were engraved in our minds reflecting the uncontrolled force police used against demonstrators.

Several columns and analyses were published on the meaning of Gezi incidents on the occasion of its first anniversary. It seems the uniqueness of the Gezi incidents for many years will engage political scientists, sociologists and probably historians.

The topic for today is the legal dimension of the rights violations taking place during the Gezi incidents and within this framework, the culture of impunity existing regarding violations. The excessive use of force from the police has caused deaths, injuries and incidents of permanent disabilities. A group of eight within the disabled constitute of those citizens who have lost their eyes because a gas canister hit their faces. 

The report jointly prepared by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Human Rights Association and Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, titled “Gezi, after one year” states the total number of injured people during the incidents is 8,163. The report said the Interior Ministry has put this number at 4,329. Also, according to the ministry, separately, 697 police were injured.

One of the topics to be floodlighted here is the fate of the court cases launched against the policemen who caused rights violations during the incidents. During the one year that has passed, none of the cases that were opened due to causing death, injury or battering have been finalized. There are numerous files, the investigations of which are ongoing, that have not come to the stage of a court case.

In other words, there is not one single police officer who has been tried and punished because of causing rights violations even though one year has passed. Here, we have the gangrenous issue of Turkey again, the culture of impunity. Public employees who kill, injure, beat and maltreat the citizen escape responsibility under the compassionate and protective wings of the judiciary, most of the time without paying any price, without a serious enforcement. Examples of just the opposite – unfortunately – are rare.

The essence of the culture of impunity should be searched at the judicial mechanism of Turkey, or a wide segment of it, that as a mentality thinks and acts in the same frequency as the police organization, that blesses the state as an entity above the citizen. Investigations launched by prosecutors generally proceed slowly, thus a result is not reached easily when they come to the court stage. At the end of the day, the rights violations caused by police are being tolerated before the judiciary. This makes the mentality of “I can get off scot-free” settle deeper.

The result of the overlapping of these mentalities is the blatant violation by the police in practice of the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on both the right to assembly and on the usage of tear gas. In a judgment the ECHR made last July, “Abdullah Yaşa vs. Turkey” it ruled tear gas canisters should not be fired directly or in a straight line. The ECHR, in the same judgment, stated if tear gas launchers were to be used, safeguards surrounding the proper use of tear gas canisters needed to be strengthened in order to minimize the risk of death and injury resulting from their use.

Photographs taken in Ankara’s Kızılay on May 31 show that the police do not fire their launchers at the correct angle; they fire directly at the demonstrators. Similar images are present that were taken in Istanbul last Saturday.

By not taking any measures to prevent the police from firing directly at its citizens, in a way, is granting this freedom to the police, Interior Minister Efkan Ala and Police Chief Mehmet Kılıçlar are challenging the ECHR judgments. Turkey is openly violating European law.

These images, at the very most, are documentation that Turkey does not deserve to be included in the European legal system.