Gassing the population of a city

Gassing the population of a city

Relevant statistics will probably be revealed in coming weeks and months.

However, even though we do not have the exact numbers, we can say that in the past three weeks the amount of gas consumed by Istanbul police points to one of the most intense and most widespread pepper gas usage practices recently in the world. No doubt we have broken a European record.

The real issue is what the rules of law that connect Turkey to Europe have to say for this record. I assume that the record of the amount of tear gas will have a rival for another record in the sense of rights violated because of pepper gas.

According to the criteria set out by European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, and within the framework of the European Court of Human Rights ECHR, tear gas usage is subject to a series of restrictions. For example, it is forbidden to use it indoors. When used outdoors, especially because of the risks it carries for human health, it has to be used according to “necessity” and “proportionality” criteria.

Using tear gas indoors is forbidden because when used indoors it exceeds the aim of security measures. It stops being a deterrent and poses a serious threat to the health of the person exposed to it. During and after the Gezi Park resistance incidents, because of the wide usage of tear gas indoors, violations of rights were experienced to a serious extent.

The image of a tear gas bomb thrown into the lobby of the Divan Hotel has been engraved in our minds, but during the past three weeks we have witnessed many other incidents of tear gas usage indoors, for example in the entrance of apartment buildings.

The problematic situation here is that while the police were resorting to the tear gas measure, primarily in Istanbul and Ankara, they were allowed to act with a very wide freedom of usage without any discrimination. When there was no discrimination, not only demonstrators but tens of thousands of people who were not demonstrators were also exposed to the negative effects of tear gas.

Especially when used in densely populated central areas, besides demonstrators, passersby and those people who were in their homes at that time were also victims of the gas.

A dramatic incident was reported in our writer Gila Benmayor’s column the other day. While Gila’s daughter was sleeping last Sunday morning at her home at Istanbul’s Şişli district, a gas bomb broke the glass and fell into her living room at around 4 a.m. She woke up to the noise and had to leave her apartment in panic, to come back only two hours later. Thus, what happened to Gila’s daughter is that a citizen has been a victim, despite the fact she was not even targeted. 

Also, the tear gas was fired by police directly aiming at people. The aim of tear gas is to stop the demonstrator and to make them ineffective and thus become a deterrent through this. However, what we witnessed in Istanbul and Ankara was that it systematically got out of this frame. The tear gas, by aiming and shooting directly, was attributed the function of a normal classic weapon.

When we view the victims among the demonstrators, the picture is beyond serious. Leave aside the tear gas, there are citizens who have lost their lives because of a bullet the police fired or because of blows they received. Separately, two of our citizens are in a coma fighting for their lives because of gas capsules smashing against their heads.

In another group, there are also injured demonstrators or citizens who now have permanent disabilities. Because of tear gas hitting their faces, some demonstrators have lost their eyes. There are also cases of plastic bullets. The maltreatment of many citizens after being detained constitutes another category.

We will see clearer the breakdown of violation of rights during the incidents in coming days. Indeed, the damage to human health because of the tear gas used will be documented in time in doctors’ reports. 

Yes, I am aware that defining these incidents as “violations of rights” is extremely light. It would be better to say that human life was simply disregarded.

Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this piece was published on June 20. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.