Police violence during Gezi Park protests unpunished, Amnesty report says

Police violence during Gezi Park protests unpunished, Amnesty report says

Police violence during Gezi Park protests unpunished, Amnesty report says

Turkish Police has again cracked down on demonstrations marking Gezi's anniversary, beating protesters with stick. AFP Photo / Bülent Kılıç

The Turkish government’s approach to the Gezi Park demonstrations in 2013 is as abusive as ever while impunity for police violence is widespread, Amnesty International said in a report published on June 10.

The report comes one year after the Gezi protests that marked the country’s agenda last year.

Amnesty International’s report titled “Adding Injustice to Injury: Gezi Park Protests One Year on” calls on the Turkish authorities to end impunity for human rights abuses by law enforcement officials and to guarantee the right to peaceful assembly.

The report recalled that 8,000 people were injured during the Gezi Park protests and at least four died as a direct result of police violence and added that the investigations into police abuse have stalled, obstructed or closed. “Only five separate prosecutions have been brought against police officers to date,” it said criticizing the lack of prosecutions on police violence during the last year’s nationwide protests.

“The Turkish authorities have been relentless in their crackdown on protesters – be it police violence on the streets or by prosecuting them through the courts. Meanwhile, the police enjoy near total impunity. The message is clear: peaceful demonstrations will not be tolerated,” said Secretary General of Amnesty International Salil Shetty about the report on its website.

“In just the last 10 days, demonstrations across Turkey to mark the anniversary of the Gezi Park protests were banned and arbitrarily and brutally dispersed with tear gas, water cannons and beatings. The government must change course, allow peaceful protests and ensure accountability for police abuse.”

In addition to the fact that the disproportionate use of force by the police went unpunished, a large number of protesters were the ones who had faced lawsuits, prosecutions and trials, noted the report.
More than 5,500 people face prosecution for organizing, participating in or supporting the Gezi Park protests. Many are being prosecuted for nothing more than peacefully exercising their right to freedom of assembly. “Protest organizers are being prosecuted for ‘founding a criminal organization,’ while scores have been charged with unsubstantiated terrorism offenses,” said the report.

“The government must revise the law on demonstrations, remove excessive restrictions on where and when demonstrations can take place and repeal provisions used to criminalize peaceful protests,” said Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s researcher on Turkey.

Doctors have been disciplined and, in two cases, criminally prosecuted for providing first aid in makeshift medical clinics during the Gezi Park protests.

The report also criticized the amendments into law during the beginning of this year that penalizes the provision of emergency medical treatment by those other than official emergency unit workers. The law has been largely criticized for being a ban on the treatment of protesters by voluntarily working doctors or medicine faculty students, which took place spontaneously during the Gezi Park protests. “Medical associations, doctors and other civil servants have faced sanctions for their alleged support for the protests,” said the report.

The report also said bans on social media after the protests, as well as the investigations opened against social media users only for sharing information about the protests, were violation of freedom of expression in the country.

New laws restrict access to social media and criminalize the provision of emergency medical care during protests, the report also urged.

Shetty said the Turkish government is “firmly set on the path of intolerance, conflict and polarization” one year after the protests, but also urged that it is not too late for the authorities to change this situation. “However, this requires the political will to acknowledge legitimate grievances and reach out to the disaffected; to accept criticism and respect the right to freedom of assembly; to stay the prosecution of peaceful protesters and ensure accountability for police abuses.”

The report also recommended the Turkish authorities to ensure that no one is prosecuted for activities protected by the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and remove the provisions of the Law on Meetings and Demonstrations that criminalize peaceful participation in demonstrations.

The other laws, including anti-terrorism legislations and organized crime offenses, should not be used to prosecute people who take part in peaceful assemblies.