Türkiye: End Protest Ban On Galatasaray Square
For the past 28 years, the Saturday Mothers/People have tirelessly sought truth and justice for their loved ones who were forcibly disappeared in police custody in the 1980s and 1990s. Saturday Mothers/People began holding a peaceful weekly vigil in Galatasaray Square in central Istanbul in May 1995 demanding that the authorities account for the fate of their loved ones. Despite being arbitrarily arrested and detained every week, they continued to gather in the square until March 1999 when they faced heavy-handed police repression with the aim to prevent the peaceful protests from taking place. After a gap of ten years and because there was no progress in their quest for truth and justice for their disappeared relatives, the group returned to Galatasaray Square in January 2009.
Time and again, the Saturday Mothers/People have been met with brutal crackdowns and even prosecutions for taking part in peaceful vigils. Turkish authorities have never provided a valid justification for their unlawful denial of the right to exercise freedom of expression and assembly. In August 2018, riot police used tear gas and water cannons as well as excessive force to disperse the hundreds of people who had peacefully gathered to mark the 700th weekly vigil. The justification for the intervention was a banning order by the Beyoğlu district governor on the grounds that the Square was not a designated location for assemblies and that they had not been notified of the assembly. 47 people were detained using excessive force. 46 of those were indicted in 2021 and are still facing the charges of ‘refusing to disperse despite warnings.’ Their prosecution continues.
Since August 2018, armed riot police are continuously stationed in Galatasaray Square, blockading all access and preventing peaceful protesters from assembling. Saturday Mothers/People are told by police each week that the district governorate’s ban is in force and that their assembly is ‘unauthorised’, in contravention of the two Constitutional Court rulings handed down in November 2022 and March 2023.