Amnesty International accuses Turkey of gross rights violations

Amnesty International accuses Turkey of gross rights violations

First-person reports of police brutality underscore call for impartial investigation and an end to prosecution of Gezi Park protesters

Turkish authorities committed widespread human rights violations during the government’s crackdown on the Gezi Park protests earlier this year, according to an Amnesty International report released Wednesday.

“The attempt to smash the Gezi Park protest movement involved a string of human rights violations on a huge scale,” Amnesty International’s expert on Turkey, Andrew Gardner, said. “They include the wholesale denial of the right to peaceful assembly and violations of the rights to life, liberty and the freedom from torture and ill-treatment.”

Protests broke out at Gezi Park in June over government plans to redevelop Istanbul landmark Taksim Square and build a replica Ottoman-era military barracks at Gezi, one of the last green areas in the city. The public rallies then evolved into an outpouring of discontent with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, which many have accused of becoming authoritarian, and spread to other cities in Turkey.

At least three deaths were linked to the use of excessive force by police, and more than 8,000 people were injured at protests where police used live ammunition, tear gas, water cannons, plastic bullets and physical force in their attempts to disperse the crowds, according to the report, which was titled “Gezi Park protests: Brutal denial of the right to peaceful assembly in Turkey.”

Turkish journalist Gökhan Biçici said he feared for his life when police allegedly detained him on the street and in police buses for six hours before taking him into official custody June 16. Video evidence (seen above) has shown him being beaten and dragged through the street by Turkish riot police.

Turks light candles for the victims of the protests at Taksim square, in Istanbul, early Saturday, June 15, 2013. (AP/Vadim Ghirda)
Turks light candles for the victims of the protests at Taksim square, in Istanbul, early Saturday, June 15, 2013. (AP/Vadim Ghirda)

“It happened around here, right over there behind me,” he said in a video released with the report. “When he [the senior police officer] hit me, other police officers came over.

“He told them to ‘take this one and finish him off’. [Meaning] ‘take him into a building, a quiet corner and kill him.’ At that point I felt that my life was in danger. Because in similar circumstances, journalists have lost their lives in Turkey. Then I resisted.”

People want justice, Biçici added.

“Our aim is that those at the top are accountable and are punished, and ensure they face the consequences of their actions.”

Hakan Yaman, a 37-year-old resident of the Sarýgazi district of Istanbul, alleged that police beat him and threw him on a fire near his home while a demonstration was taking place nearby on Demokrasi Avenue July 3, causing him to lose one eye completely and 80 percent of his sight in the other. He also sustained a fractured skull and second-degree burns to his back.

“What I want most is that they get caught,” he said. “I want those who did this to me to be caught and receive the harshest punishment possible. This is what I want most. Because no human being deserves this.

“Over there is where my eye was gouged. Five riot police and one in plain clothes started beating me. I don’t remember much more. I was dragged along the ground. Then they left me on the fire. As they were dragging me I think the plain clothes officer gouged my eye or hit me with a hard object.”

Protesters try to resist the advance of riot police in Gezi park in Istanbul, Turkey, Saturday, June 15, 2013. (Photo credit: AP/Vadim Ghirda)
Protesters try to resist the advance of riot police in Gezi park in Istanbul, Turkey, Saturday, June 15, 2013. (Photo credit: AP/Vadim Ghirda)

Hülya Arslan, a protester who had been camping as part of the protests, lost her right eye and suffered a broken nose when police fired plastic bullets on protesters in Gezi Park June 11.

“Police definitely used excessive force,” Arslan said. “We were exercising our legal right to protest but they did not intervene in a legal way. We faced a violence that increased as the days went by. Some of our friends who have been injured, some have died. The reason my eye is this way is that excessive violence.

“It was like a horror movie. My whole face was covered in blood. Because of the place I was shot I could not breathe. Blood was coming from my mouth, my nose, my ears.”

As a result of the attack, Arslan says she lost her job and has suffered psychological damage.

“I was shot on my first day at work,” she said. “I have waited so long for that position. I wasn’t able to continue my job. I still can’t. It’s affected my work life. It’s affected my psychology. It’s affected my life style. I cannot enjoy life like I used to before the incident. I feel I am lacking something. I feel it when I walk in the street. I feel it at home. I feel it with the prosthetic eye. I feel anxious all the time.”

The interviews in the video were translated by Amnesty International.

The executive director of Amnesty International Ireland, Colm O’Gorman, called on Turkey to investigate the claims of human rights abuses by its 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, according to the Irish Times.

While the protests have mostly tapered off since June, they have continued on a smaller scale. Last month, police used tear gas and water cannons during protests against abusive police tactics.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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