Norwegian Helsinki Committee Statement on Gezi Park Events
Government should respect freedoms
Government should respect freedoms and establish independent investigation into police violence against demonstrators. The Norwegian Helsinki Committee is deeply concerned about recent reports of police abuse against largely peaceful demonstrators in Istanbul, Ankara and many other Turkish cities.
The demonstrations started on 27 May in the Gezi Park in Istanbul, demanding a halt to the removal of the trees for the reshaping of the Gezi Park as a part of a wider redevelopment project in Istanbul. According to credible reports, the peaceful and few demonstrators were met by police using tear gas and water cannons.
The number of Gezi Park protesters grew rapidly, while solidarity protests against the Government were organized in Ankara and other major cities. Police repeatedly attacked protesters. According to a statement by the Turkish Medical Association, since the beginning of the Gezi Park protests until 21:00 at 4 June 4177 injured individuals applied to hospitals, two individuals died, 43 individuals suffered from heavy injuries, three were in a critical condition, 10 individuals lost one eye, and 15 had serious head injuries.
While the protests started as an environment protest urging the Government to protect one of the few remaining green parks in Istanbul, they rapidly became an expression of protest against the unacceptable violence used by the police and the lack of political action to stop this violence as well as wider discontent with Government policies.
This is not the first time that Turkish police met peaceful protest with disproportionate violent measures. Unfortunately, excessive force is routinely used by law enforcement officials to disperse protests in Turkey. Only four weeks ago, police in Istanbul used excessive force to disperse 1 May demonstrations near the Taksim emergency Hospital.
However, this should be the time that the Turkish government makes it absolutely clear that police violence is unacceptable. To that end, we urge the Government to:
- Follow-up on Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc’s 4 June apology to protesters injured in demonstrations at the Gezi Park by establishing an independent investigation into wider police misconduct related to the protests. This investigation should be followed-up by effective reforms of police conduct related to street protests, preventing future police attacks on peaceful demonstrators;
- Follow-up on Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc’s pledge to meet protesters against plans to transform the Gezi Park.
During the last years, both Turkish and international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch criticized restrictions on free speech and Turkish politicians’ intolerance of dissenting voices.
Several main Turkish media outlets have failed to cover the protests and the police violence. In the view of many commentators, this may be an indication of the overall lack of protection of free speech and independent media reporting in turkey; leading to widespread self-censorship among media outlets. We therefore call on the Government to initiate measures to increase protection of free speech and independent reporting of electronic, print and other types of media, including Internet and mobile information systems. Turkey needs to develop a climate free from fear so that free flow of information can be guaranteed in line with international human rights standards.
In a welcome move, the Turkish television station NTV apologized for failing to cover the initial protests. The chief executive of the conglomerate that owns NTV, Cem Aydin of Dogus, conceded that criticism of the channel was “fair to a large extent”.
In a wider response to the protests, the Government and local authorities should review policies of transparency and popular consultation on major projects. The rapid escalation of the protests may signal that the Government should increase public consultation and consultation with the political opposition.
Governments with a longtime large majority in Parliament, such as the current AK Party Government in Turkey, may think that their democratic credentials are so strong that further consultations with the opposition, the civil society and with engaged citizens are not necessary. We strongly disagree with this view. Full-fledged democracy requires Governments to fully respect fundamental freedoms as well as conducting extensive consulting with opposition and citizen’s representatives as well as allowing for dissenting voices to be heard.
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