Brother of shot Turkish protester still seeks justice

Brother of shot Turkish protester still seeks justice

26-year-old Ethem Sarisuluk was one of 8 shot dead in June 2013 in police crackdown on peaceful protest to save park

Mustafa Sarisuluk, brother of 26-year-old Ethem Sarisuluk, who was shot dead by police during anti-government protests in 2013 in Ankara, speaks to AFP on May 29, 2014 in the Turkish capital. (photo credit: Adem Altan/AFP)
Mustafa Sarisuluk, brother of 26-year-old Ethem Sarisuluk, who was shot dead by police during anti-government protests in 2013 in Ankara, speaks to AFP on May 29, 2014 in the Turkish capital. (photo credit: Adem Altan/AFP)

Mustafa Sarisuluk didn’t even recognize his brother as he watched his limp body being carried to an ambulance after being shot in the head during protests in Ankara last year.

“Thousands were at the downtown Kizilay square in Ankara, under massive plumes of tear gas fired by the police billowing into the air. I knew Ethem was there. So was I,” Mustafa, 33, told AFP, recalling the anti-government demonstrations that swept the country a year ago.

“I had to carry four or five injured people. I saw police deliberately taking aim at protesters. Several canisters of tear gas flew right next to my head but I avoided them.

“After 20 minutes, I walked to one corner of the Guven park at Kizilay and heard gunfire. I thought police had fired into the air to intimidate the crowds. Then I saw someone being carried toward an ambulance.

“I found out after watching television footage that it was actually my brother Ethem.”

Ethem, 26, was one of at least eight people killed in clashes in June 2013 after police cracked down on a peaceful protest to save Istanbul’s Gezi Park from redevelopment.

The protests soon snowballed into a campaign against the authoritarianism of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted government, drawing an estimated three million people onto the streets.

Ethem died on June 14, two weeks after the demonstrations.

The video of his shooting went viral on social media and was used by defense lawyers as evidence that the police officer who pulled the trigger was intentionally attacking protesters.

The officer, who disguised himself by wearing a wig and a fake mustache in the initial hearings, faces up to five years in prison for exceeding the limits of legitimate defense “without intent”.

In December, the trial was referred to a higher tribunal because of concerns about political interference. Days later Turkish authorities launched an investigation into allegations that the judge and prosecutor nodded off in the court.

Mustafa has also faced pressure since Ethem’s death.

After the trial started, he was fired from his job as an ironworker in Ankara, where the brothers used to work together. He has since been hired by authorities at Cankaya municipality, which is run by the opposition CHP party.

He holds out little hope that the family will receive any justice when the trial resumes on July 7. In a hearing in late May, the accused policeman said he would “use his right to silence” and refuse to testify in court.

“We have no hope of a just verdict as long as courts are used as mechanisms to award murderers. It is a show trial,” Mustafa said.

The heavy-handed tactics used by Turkish police against protesters have drawn widespread criticism from rights groups and raised question marks over Ankara’s ambitions to become a modern democratic model for the Muslim world.

Amnesty International — detailing the use of live ammunition, tear gas, water cannon, plastic bullets and beatings — said the deaths of at least three protesters were linked to the “abusive use of force by police” last year.

One year on from the mass uprising, authorities are facing renewed challenges.

Last week, two people died in a working-class district of Istanbul after demonstrators took to the streets to commemorate the death of a teenage boy from injuries sustained during last year’s unrest.

Mustafa said the protests — dubbed the Gezi movement in Turkey — reflects the changing face of the Turkish republic as it struggles to reshape itself as a modern democratic state.

“Gezi is the 21th century version of the past’s popular uprisings and class conflicts”, he said.

“It was the legitimate resistance of the oppressed, the alienated, the poor and the youth against repressive and discriminatory policies by the ruling party over the last decade”.

But he fears that spirit could be undermined by what he calls the “hate speech and polarisation” carried out by Ankara’s political leaders.

“I am worried that the movement could be buried in shallow waters given the society’s conservative and religious character,” he said.

“Gezi was a breakthrough but one year on, I cannot see if the newborn baby will be healthy, deceased, or a lame duck.”

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