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Turkey: Istanbul Police Attacks Undermine Talks

Riot Police Deployed in Taksim, Teargassing Thousands of Peaceful Protesters

(Istanbul) – The Turkish government’s decision to send riot police into Taksim Square and to teargas tens of thousands of peaceful protesters has all but destroyed efforts to foster a peaceful dialogue between the government and protesters. The demonstrators have been demanding an end to development of Taksim Square and Gezi Park in Istanbul.

“Teargassing tens of thousands of protesters in Taksim Square won’t end this crisis,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch. “If Turkey is to be counted among rights-respecting countries, the police brutality has to stop and the government should talk to the protesters.”

Coinciding with a statement by the Istanbul Governorate, at 7 a.m. on June 11, 2013, riot police moved into Taksim Square. The purpose, the statement said, was “to remove the many flags and banners of illegal organizations hung on the Ataturk Monument and on the Ataturk Cultural Center,” both well-known landmarks in Taksim Square. During an evening protest of tens of thousands of people in Taksim Square and surrounding streets, Human Rights Watch watched police again repeatedly teargas the crowds.

In the incidents during the morning, Human Rights Watch witnessed subsequent clashes between the riot police, who repeatedly fired rounds of teargas and used vehicles equipped with water cannon, and some protesters who threw stones and gasoline bombs. The vast majority of protesters maintained their peaceful occupation of the park. Peaceful protesters also formed a long human chain in Taksim Square to protest the police entry into the square, and police dispersed them with teargas.

By 10:30 a.m. the Istanbul Medical Chamber had reported that three people had been treated for serious head injuries, three for broken limbs, nine for wounds from plastic bullets, and scores of others for excessive exposure to teargas. Following the incidents in the evening, there are likely to be many additional injuries, Human Rights Watch said.

The deployment of riot police in Taksim Square comes on the eve of government plans to hold a meeting between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and representatives from nongovernmental groups, who would either be able to represent the protesters or potentially mediate with the Taksim Solidarity Platform, which unites various groups among the protesters.

Erdoğan made a speech on the morning of June 11 following the clashes in which he again sought to discredit the protesters and their aims and called on them to withdraw from the park. He thanked the police for their intervention and said: “We will continue decisively, Gezi Park is not an occupation site.”

“The prime minister’s words this morning seem to have been a green light for the teargas attack on peaceful demonstrators this evening,” Sinclair-Webb said.

Also in the morning, police detained 45 lawyers who were preparing to stage a protest at the Cağlayan Courthouse against the police intervention in Taksim Square. The Office of the Chief Prosecutor recently banned protests at Cağlayan Court House. Human Rights Watch received confirmation from lawyers representing the lawyers in detention that they would be released during the evening.

The governorate reported in the morning that police had detained 70 protesters in Taksim Square, though full details are not yet known and the figure is likely to have risen.

Protesters who use violence are subject to criminal prosecution, Human Rights Watch said.

The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officers state that law enforcement officials “shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms.” Whenever the use of force is unavoidable, security forces shall “[e]xercise restraint in such use and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offence and the legitimate objective to be achieved.” 

In addition, law enforcement officials should not use firearms against persons “except in self-defense or defense of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury.” Because rubber bullets may in certain circumstances have lethal effects, they should be treated for practical purposes as firearms, Human Rights Watch said.

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