The PM says it has to be shot at an angle, but…

The PM says it has to be shot at an angle, but…

The Turkish Thoracic Society, the professional association of expert medical doctors on the field of pulmonary issues, has been persistently issuing serious warnings about the risks of pepper gas to human health; it has demanded that the gas be absolutely abandoned. 

Experts are warning about the gas cloud that settles over the city after gas capsules are fired and that threaten public health. A serious public health problem was experienced after the Gezi Park resistance, especially on the European side of Istanbul from Şişhane to Beşiktaş, when many people had to leave town to escape the pepper gas seeping into their homes. 

Warnings by experts based on scientific data are not taken seriously by officials but maybe a pepper gas problem experienced during a football match may activate the state. 

Last Tuesday evening in Istanbul, around İstiklal Avenue, Tünel and Şişhane, the high dose of pepper gas used clustered in the air and with the help of the wind, drifted toward the west and hung over Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Stadium. 

At that time, the Turkish and Swedish U-21 national teams were playing in a qualifier. When the field was covered with gas, the match was stopped. After about one-and-a-half hours, it restarted at 9 p.m. and ended 2-2. 

Shifting our focus to the other dimension of the issue, the police, again, fired the gas capsules without pointing them at an angle, directly targeting the demonstrators. When used like this, the pepper gas, with its “striking effect,” is no different than a gun or rifle firing a bullet. 

The situation of 14-year-old, seventh grade student Berkin Elvan is a striking example in this framework. Elvan was shot by a pepper gas capsule on June 15 and has been in a coma ever since at Okmeydanı Hospital. 

When we look at the legal dimension of the issue, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) sentenced Turkey on July 16 because of the usage of pepper gas in an important decision. 

The incident that was brought before the court occurred in 2006 when 13-year-old Abdullah Yaşa in Diyarbakır was injured by a pepper gas capsule hitting his nose while the police were trying to disperse demonstrators. 

The court drew attention to the improper use of pepper gas capsules, saying they can cause injury and death. In other words, the ECHR is saying that it would consider it as if a gun or rifle has been fired if pepper gas capsules are directly fired at people. The court fined Turkey 15,000 euros. More importantly, the court also decided that “Turkey’s legislation in this respect should be strengthened so that the risk of injury and death is lowered.” Since the ECHR’s decision is binding, Turkey now faces an obligation to change its relevant legislation with a new circular. 

At this point, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan seems in accordance with the ECHR. Look what Erdoğan said at the International Ombudsman Symposium in Ankara on Sept. 3: “Spraying pepper gas is already in the EU legislation. Here, it could be that the angle, the degree may not be used appropriately; whatever is needed to be done is being done in that aspect anyway. That’s a different subject…”

However, despite the prime minister finally accepting the existence of this problem and even though he stated that what is needed should be done, it is not being done. 

Take a look at the photograph printed at daily Milliyet on Thursday, with the question: “What happened to 45 degrees?” The photo was taken by the paper’s photographer Bünyamin Aygün on Mis Sokak leading to İstiklal Avenue last Tuesday evening at 8:10 p.m. And as can be seen, the police are, to a great extent, holding a tear gas rifle parallel to the ground; in other words, firing it directly at the demonstrators. 

Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this piece was published on Sept 13. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.