The use of tear gas and water cannon against peaceful protesters today by police in Istanbul is a reprehensible move to crack down on free expression and peaceful assembly, Amnesty International said.
Riot police sealed off the whole of central Istanbul near Taksim Square to ensure that no protesters made it to a peaceful demonstration planned there to mark May Day.
“A peaceful march this morning was cut off by a human wall of riot police blocking the main access road from Şişli into Taksim Square, the epicentre of last year’s Gezi Park protests,” said Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s Turkey expert, who witnessed the events first-hand.
“In a repeat of the abusive tactics that have sadly become the Turkish authorities’ stock response to peaceful protests, tear gas and water cannon were fired to disperse the crowd assembled there.
“Police sealed off the entire area, with one riot police officer on the roadblock remarking: ‘No people, no problems’. The Istanbul Governor had justified the ban on the grounds that it would disrupt traffic and tourism – then sealed off the area to everyone. What should have been a lively peaceful protest in the square has been denied – one more nail in the coffin of freedom of expression and assembly in Turkey.”
After several years of peaceful large-scale May Day celebrations in Taksim taking place with the approval of the Turkish authorities, in 2013 they refused to allow demonstrations to take place and police prevented and dispersed peaceful protesters with abusive force. This year, a reported 39,000 police officers and 50 water cannon trucks were drafted in as the authorities refused to allow demonstrations to take place.
With scant warning, police today used tear gas and water cannon against a crowd of several thousand people peacefully assembled close to the DİSK union confederation building in the Şişli district. The scene was a carbon copy of the abusive force against trade unionists in 2008, found by the European Court of Human rights to violate their right to peaceful protest in the case of Disk and Kesk vs. Turkey.
On occasions when the authorities have allowed May Day rallies to take place in Taksim Square, they have passed peacefully and without injuries or damage to property. On occasions where the authorities have refused permission for Taksim May Day rallies to take place, they have resulted in the use of abusive force by police against demonstrators, injuries and major disruption across the city. This year has proved to be no different.