May Day Mayhem

Happy May Day! Traditionally, today is associated with protest, though as far as I’m aware here in the UK the only protesting going on is in polling stations. A far cry from May Days past, including the less than peaceful one in 2000 that saw protesters in Parliament Square adorn Churchill’s statue with a Mohican made from turf.

That was one way of saying “Sod the establishment” I suppose but I can’t imagine it would go down well in Turkey, where May Day demonstrations are planned in many cities.  

Amnesty has called upon the Turkish authorities to ensure that the right to freedom of peaceful assembly is respected and to make sure that law enforcement officials use force only where strictly necessary and only to the extent required to perform their duties. Sadly our call does not appear to have been headed – police have apparently been breaking up a rally in Istanbul.

We didn’t want a repeat of the situation last year when during and after a peaceful demonstration in Istanbul police used batons and tear gas to disperse the demonstrators. While 38 people lodged a criminal complaint alleging that police at the demonstration had injured them, last month the Chief Prosecutor ruled that the force was legal because the demonstration was not authorised by the authorities. So, the use of violence was fine because protesters hadn’t done the paperwork!  

Worse, during violent demonstrations in several towns and cities centring on Diyarbakir in 2006, ten demonstrators and onlookers were killed, four of them children. There were widespread allegations of torture or other ill-treatment in police custody but more than two years later, not a single prosecution has been opened against any member of the security forces, either in relation to the allegations of torture or the fatal shootings that occurred during the demonstrations.

 Of course, while May Day provides a focal point for protesters on many issues – in Seattle, the Iraq War, in China, nationalist anger at the foreign protests against the Olympic torch relay.  

Speaking of the torch, it’s recent stop in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, saw 14 people arrested but, incredibly, 12 of them were in Hanoi, over 1,000 miles away. 

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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.
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