‘We always do this and nobody complains’

‘We always do this and nobody complains’

This year, Istanbul residents lived through May Day in a “state of emergency” situation because of the transportation restrictions introduced by the office of the governor. On grounds of the construction of the pedestrianization project and the safety risk of the certain hole, demonstrations were prohibited in Taksim; in order to block access to Taksim, several roads were closed, while inner-city ferries, the metro, metrobus and funicular services were stopped. Very wide-ranging measures were taken; the situation was indeed like a state of emergency.

On that evening, Nejat Taştan applied to the Ombudsman’s Office on the grounds that the freedom of travel had been obstructed because of the halting of mass transportation services based on a decision of the governor. It was a bit late, but on Oct. 8, the ombudsman reached a decision.

It is interesting from a number of angles. At the beginning of the decision, freedom of travel is defined through international legal texts that are also binding for Turkey; then it is also stated that rights and freedoms could be restricted by law. 

But later there is a long emphasis on how this restriction cannot be in contradiction with the essence of rights and freedoms: It says that the practice of an authorization recognized by law does not always result in a rightful outcome. It also said, “The restriction cannot exceed what is required or considered as compulsory.” In short, the ombudsman decided that Nejat Taştan’s freedom of travel had been restricted. It advised that necessary measures be taken for this not to happen again. 

The interlocutor, the Office of the Istanbul Governor has to issue its opinion in 30 days, and it did. Their text primarily says the office of the governor has used its legal authority. Since they were informed through mass communication means, citizens going to work, etc. already took their own measures, it argued. 

What is interesting is that it is said that during the Eurasia Marathon held for 35 years and other bicycle, golf and auto races, there were similar even heavier transportation restrictions and that not even one person has complained about them. In other words, it is like saying, “We always do it.” So, by saying that, “the fact that one citizen has filed a complaint about the restrictions brought to mass transportation services on May 1 is not a good-willed approach; it is an approach with known intentions,” in a way, the applicant is being tipped off. Later, he would again be referred to as “…only one person in a city of 14 million…”

Nejat Taştan is the coordinator of the Association to Monitor Equal Rights but he filed the application as an individual. Their aim was to test the operation of this mechanism that has been debated from many angles starting from the ombudsman himself to the impartiality of the agency. They also wanted to open to discussion the attitude of public institutions to decisions. First, the questioning of the office of the governor of his intention is a sign how defenseless one is in individual applications. There will be another application for these expressions. 

As a matter of fact, Taştan thinks the ombudsman’s decision was better than they expected. But what is the equivalent of this before the office of the governor who said, “I have used my authority; I can use it again”? 

Taştan also said the mechanism is not very well known, there were already technical issues and people preferred more effective legal ways such as the ECHR. When you add to this the opinion of the office of the governor, then the ombudsmanship does really become open to debate; also when considering that many applications were filed especially during the Gezi incidents… 

Pınar Öğünç is a columnist for daily Radikal in which this piece was published on Dec 6. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.