Show trials, intolerance and discrmination: Gezi Park one year on
Twitter is everywhere these days and everyone seems to be tweeting - compressing our lives into short updates to share with the world. So what could be more ‘now’ than a twitter trial?
I don’t mean trial by twitter of course, but protesters being taken to court for their tweets: 26 members of the Taksim Solidarity Group. When I say ‘solidarity group’, you probably think full time activists, right? Not at all - this is a coalition of around 100 organisations which includes architects, engineers, doctors and trade unionists.
On 12 June in Istanbul these everyday people were in court charged with calling people to ‘unlawful’ protests and ‘founding a criminal organisation’. How did they do this? They tweeted! They opposed plans for the Taksim Square and Gezi Park urban development project in Istanbul. They tried to raise public awareness and called for (via twitter) peaceful demonstrations against the planned destruction of the park.
The Turkish government calls this ‘unlawful’ and ‘criminal’. We call this response a vindictive and politically motivated show trial.
We are Taksim
So while they were in court that Monday I, alongside many other Amnesty activists and the London Gezi Park Solidarity group, was in London outside the Turkish embassy, sweltering in the hot midday sun, a gag round my mouth, silently demonstrating against this and silently remembering Gezi park and what happened there a year ago.
We held up ‘In solidarity with Taksim’ placards. We took photos and sent them direct to Amnesty’s team in Istanbul, who were there observing the trial. We wanted the defendants to know we were supporting them!
I’m sure you remember seeing the words Gezi Park all over the news, just a year ago. June is the first anniversary of the Gezi Park protests which sparked anti-government demonstrations across Turkey by an estimated 3.5 million people. In Turkey, demonstrations to mark this anniversary were banned and people dispersed with tear gas, water cannons and beatings.
8,000 people, some just passers-by, were injured during the Gezi Park protests. Some were blinded as a result of police violence and at least four of them died. Journalists were beaten by police. Women were sexually assaulted by police.
Yet investigations into police abuses have led nowhere so far. There has been a total of five trials opened against police officers to date. Compare that with over 5,500 people, like the Taksim Solidarity activists, facing prosecution for organising or participating in the Gezi Park protests. Some have even been charged with unsubstantiated terrorism offences.
One of those killed was a fifteen-year-old boy, Berkin Elvan. He went out to buy a loaf of bread in his Istanbul neighbourhood and was struck on the head with a tear-gas canister. He went into a coma and died 9 months later in March 2014. He was also an Alevi, a minority group in Turkey who face near-constant discrimination.
Members from the London Alevi Cultural Centre joined our demonstration. For them, Berkin’s death was a sad continuation of the violence, discrimination and intolerance they have suffered in Turkey for centuries.
‘Dirty gypsies’ – institutionalised discrimination from the state
Alevis number about 20 million in Turkey. It is the second largest, but officially unrecognised, religion in Turkey, where most people identify as Sunni Muslims. A pre-Islamic religion, it’s based largely on an oral tradition and worship is through dance and song in a Cemevis, the Alevi house of worship. Men and women worship together and women do not cover up. It has been described as a liberal form of Islam, although I have also heard some Turks call them ‘dirty gypsies’. Certainly the ruling Islamic party, AK, has done nothing to support them.
Last year, the government restored to the Christian community property previously confiscated by the Turkish state and brought in legislation to help towards the upkeep of churches and synagogues, but there are no similar subsidies for Cemevis. An AK party MP even suggested that ‘allowing government subsidies to Cemevis would open the path to devil worshippers.’
Alevis feel marginalised from power and used as frequent scapegoats by Prime Minister Erdogan for his ills. At the demonstration, their black wreath symbolised the Alevis’ slow-burning unrest.
One year on from the Gezi Park protests, the Turkish authorities seem to be set on a path of intolerance, conflict and polarization. Unless checked, this will lead to further violations of human rights in Turkey. The government must change course – it isn’t too late.
Barbara Lodge is our Turkey Country Coordinator.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.