Turkey’s reaction to Gezi Park protests ‘brutal’, says Amnesty

Widespread abuses were carried out and thousands remain in detention, report finds

Riot police guard the entrance of Gezi Park as protesters shout slogans in central Istanbul earlier this year. Photograph: Osman Orsal/Reuters

Riot police guard the entrance of Gezi Park as protesters shout slogans in central Istanbul earlier this year. Photograph: Osman Orsal/Reuters


An Amnesty International report to be released today has found that Turkish authorities reacted in a “brutal and unequivocal” manner to peaceful protests during the Gezi Park demonstrations in June.

The report says that thousands of protesters remain in detention and that, though the deaths of three people were linked to police violence, there has been “little progress in investigating and bringing police officers responsible for abuses to justice”.

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) faced the biggest threat to its 10-year rule in June when thousands of people mobbed city squares around the country to protest at the building of a replica military barracks on Gezi Park in central Istanbul. Many Turks resent the government’s perceived intrusion into public life in the form of new restrictions on the sale of alcohol and contraception.

AKP officials have blamed a variety of elements for instigating the unrest including a so-called “interest rate lobby”.

Sexual abuse
The 70-page Amnesty report says widespread abuses including beatings and sexual abuse of female protesters were carried out by law enforcement officers during the unrest.

Executive director of Amnesty International Ireland, Colm O’Gorman, has called on the Turkish authorities to carry out “effective and impartial investigations” into the human rights abuses committed by police.

“We also need to see an end to the hundreds of prosecutions of people solely for taking part in demonstrations when there is no evidence they were involved in violence,” he said.

Though calm returned to much of the country over the summer, public anger with the AKP has continued in several key Turkish cities. On September 10th, a 22-year-old man was killed in the city of Antakya in southeast Turkey when taking part in an anti-government march. Turkish authorities dispute the claim of police involvement, and say the man fell from a building.

Teargas and water cannons were deployed against groups of demonstrators in the Kadikoy district of Istanbul last month during street protests against the heavy-handed tactics used by riot police in Antakya.

Resistance groups
Many public parks and green spaces in Istanbul continue to host active resistance groups attempting to oppose the government by reaching out to the public in residential areas.

Politics has also recently entered the often violent world of Turkish football. Pro-Gezi chants were called out by supporters at a volatile Istanbul derby game between Besiktas and Galatasaray on September 22nd. The match was abandoned due to a pitch invasion by fans.

The AKP, however, has continued its efforts to bring the country in line with several EU standards.

On Monday, prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced a set of new reforms as part of a broad “democratisation package” that included changes to electoral laws and measures to bring Kurdish militants back to the negotiating table. In spite of the crackdown on anti-government elements, Mr Erdogan and his AKP still hold broad popular support, according to a series of recent national polls.

Fadi Hakura, a Turkey expert at Chatham House in London, said he believed the government was unlikely to stomach further protests because of a critical election cycle that would see local and general elections slated for next year and 2015 respectively.

Mr Hakura said the government’s popularity had recovered since the initial shock of Gezi. “The oxygen has kind of decreased for the protestors,” he said.