Gezi Park Protests: Brutal Denial of the Right to Peaceful Assembly in Turkey

October 2, 2013

Gezi Park Protests: Brutal Denial of the Right to Peaceful Assembly in Turkey

The Ministry of the Interior announced on 23 June that there had been approximately 4,900 detentions from the scene of protests. As of the end of August, police were continuing to detain and question individuals about their alleged instigation of, or participation in the protests. Like others accused of instigating the protests, prominent members of Taksim Solidarity, a coalition of over 100 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), political groups and professional bodies, were being investigated under anti-terrorism laws. Conversely, very little progress has been made to investigate the scores of allegations of abusive police violence. Indeed, the chance of police officers who have used abusive force being brought to justice remains remote unless urgent steps are taken by the authorities.

The authorities' response to the Gezi Park protests to date in many ways represents a continuation of long standing patterns of human rights abuses in Turkey; the denial of the right to peaceful assembly, excessive use of force by police officers and the prosecution of legitimate dissenting opinions while allowing police abuses go unchecked.

The difference in the case of the Gezi Park protests is in terms of scale and constituency. The street demonstrations have been unparalleled in terms of the numbers of people taking part, their duration for over two months and the fact that they spanned virtually every province in the country. Many of those taking part were in their 20s and had not previously been involved in any form of political protest. Many came from the more affluent sections of society. This has brought a more visceral awareness of the human rights abuses previously experienced by people demonstrating on politically sensitive issues such as Kurdish rights and politics to a broader audience within Turkey.

Most fundamentally of all, the Gezi Park protests display the need for the authorities to adopt a radically different approach to peaceful public protest. The current government must learn to tolerate the dissenting opinions expressed through street protests and ensure that police are equipped, trained and instructed to police them lawfully.