Students released by court as protests simmer

Students released by court as protests simmer

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Students released by court as protests simmer

A crowd of 3,000 people waited outside of the courthouse until late hours yesterday, protesting their friends’ prisonments. DAILY NEWS photo, Selahattin SÖNMEZ

Twenty-eight leftist youths, most of them students, went on trial in one of the most controversial cases in Turkey’s recent past.

Twenty-two of the defendants who were under arrest were released by an Ankara court late yesterday.

A crowd of at least 3,000 people, including lawmakers of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), academics, prominent actors and activists who came from all over Turkey, demonstrated outside Ankara’s main courthouse as the trial began Dec. 9.

The defendants, most of whom have been behind bars for 6six months, have been accused of being members of leftist terrorist groups solely on the basis of leftist publications discovered in their homes, the indictment has revealed.

Aged between 20 and 31, the youths were arrested after they took part in violent street protests in Ankara May 31, erupting in reaction to a heavy-handed crackdown on a demonstration earlier that day in the Black Sea town of Hopa. Retired teacher Metin Lokumcu died of a heart attack after police used tear gas against the demonstrators who had taken to the streets during Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Hopa.

At the first hearing of the case, the defendants rejected the accusations and demanded they be released pending trial.

“Even demonstrations in solidarity with Palestine and our protests against the occupation of Iraq were considered illegal,” one of the defendants Kadir Aydoğan told the judge. “One of the police officers who took me into custody said, ‘Fifteen of you will be arrested. You will learn a lesson when you stay in jail several months.’ Then, we, 15 people, were arrested that day,” he said.

The case hit headlines after it emerged the indictment described leftist associations Halkevleri (People’s Houses) and Öğrenci Kolektifleri (Students’ Collectives), which were at the forefront of the May 31 protest, as extensions of the outlawed Turkish People’s Liberation Party-Front (THKP-C), the now-defunct radical group that led Turkey’s leftist movement in the 1970s. No weapons have been discovered in the probe, and the defendants face no charges of armed action.

Among the objects, vthe prosecutor lists as incriminating evidence are banners, sticks, an umbrella, a checkered scarf, books by Marx and Lenin, posters of Mahir Çayan and Deniz Gezmiş, the iconic leaders of Turkey’s leftist movement, and leaflets calling for cheaper transport and food at university campuses.
The indictment said the protesters held an unauthorized gathering, carried a banner calling the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) “murderer,” dismantled sidewalks and pelted the police with sticks and stones, leaving 65 riot police injured.

The defendants have been charged with membership in a terrorist organization, spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization, deliberately injuring a public employee, damaging public property and resisting security forces.