Open Letter: EU-Turkey Association Council – Right to Peaceful Assembly
To the attention of:
Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy,
Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy & Enlargement Negotiations,
Foreign Affairs Ministers of member states of the European Union.
Brussels, 12 May 2015
Re: EU-Turkey Association Council – Right to Peaceful Assembly
Dear High Representative,
In view of the EU-Turkey Association Council of 18 May which takes place against a backdrop of continuing crackdown on dissent in Turkey, we write to call on you to take this opportunity to address the systematic violations of the right to peaceful assembly with your Turkish counterparts.
On the 1st of May, a traditional day of demonstration all over the world, many demonstrators were detained and injured across Turkey. According to Turkey’s General Directorate of Security, 339 protesters were detained and 50 people, including police officers, were injured. An Istanbul court placed under arrest at least 19 of those detained in Istanbul, while the others were released pending trial, including 51 people subject to a travel ban.
On May Day Eve, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu declared that only “symbolic” rallies would be tolerated on Taksim Square, and any attempt to stage massive rallies would be considered an attempt to “create chaos.” Despite the ban, around a hundred demonstrators tried to gather on the square. Police forces swiftly intervened using tear gas and water cannons to disperse the demonstrators. Elsewhere in the country, smaller peaceful demonstrations were also violently dispersed by the police. In Nigde, in Anatolia, 25 demonstrators were detained.
Since 1977, when dozens of people celebrating May Day were killed, Taksim Square has become a symbolic place for the labour movements in Turkey seeking to express their demands. Banning such marches has always raised tensions, and often led to violent confrontations between demonstrators and the police. In contrast, when the authorities allowed rallies between 2009 and 2012, demonstrations were peaceful and orderly.
This year, May Day came in a context where space for dissent is shrinking, particularly after the adoption of a new security law “Law amending the Law on powers and duties of the police, other laws and decrees” in March 2015 and approved by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on May Day. This law, which was used as a basis for the arrest and judicial proceedings against demonstrators on May Day, contains repressive provisions granting the police the power to detain people without a prosecutor’s order for up to 24 hours in individual crimes, and up to 48 hours for crimes committed in the context of violent incidents during protests. It also allows the police to use firearms to protect property, in contravention of international human rights standards. Under the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, the use of lethal weapons should only be justified to protect people against imminent threat to life or serious injury, and only when other less lethal means have been exhausted.
According to international human rights conventions to which Turkey is party, including the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the authorities have a responsibility to protect and facilitate the right to peaceful assembly. Moreover, Article 34 of Turkey’s Constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, stipulating that “everyone has the right to hold unarmed and peaceful meetings and demonstration marches without prior permission.”
In light of this, and in line with the EU’s commitments to promote human rights through all its external actions, EMHRN calls on you to take the opportunity of the EU-Turkey Association Council to urge the Turkish authorities to:
- Protect and facilitate the right to peaceful assembly without discrimination;
- Immediately cease arbitrary arrests during peaceful protests, as well as excessive use of force against peaceful protestors;
- Conduct independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of injuries, torture and other ill or degrading treatments by law enforcement officers, and ensure accountability;
- Abandon all judicial proceedings against peaceful protesters, and release all those detained without credible evidence;
- Reform Law nº 3201 on Security Affairs and other police regulations, to limit the use of force and weapons, and implement the principles legality, necessity and proportionality;
- Amend the repressive provisions of the “Law amending the Law on powers and duties of the police, other laws and decrees” to bring it in line with international human rights standards ;
- Reform Law nº 2911 on Meetings and Demonstrations to protect and guarantee the right to freedom of assembly without discrimination or restriction, and cease criminal and disproportionate sanctions for organising or participating in peaceful unauthorised gatherings.