Turkey’s Violent Denial of the Right to Peaceful Protest Turns Tragic, Again.

Freedom of Speech, Press Release, Shrinking Space for Civil Society, Turkey

The latest spiral of police violence against pro-Kurdish protesters have not only resulted in the tragic death of many protesters, but also has demonstrated yet again the Turkish government’s failure to uphold the right to peaceful assembly.

The Euro-Mediterranean Human Right Network (EMHRN) condemns the excessive use of violence, including firing of tear gas, water cannon and live ammunitions by police forces to disperse pro-Kurdish demonstrators, leading to the tragic death of over 30 civilians, the injury of hundreds and the mass arrest of more than a thousand civilians.

The demonstrators had responded to a call by Turkey’s main pro-Kurdish party to protest against what they perceived as the government’s inaction to stop the Syrian border town of Kobane from falling to the Islamic State (IS).

Demonstrators attempted to exercise their right to freedom of assembly and hold peaceful protests. However, they were met with excessive police violence, as well as attacks from other groups, including nationalist and Islamic groups sympathetic to the Islamic State. There have been reports that pro-Hezbollah activists were killed in clashes with Kurdish protestors.

In a move unprecedented since the deadliest days of the Kurdish insurgency in the 1990s, the army was deployed to impose a curfew in several cities in the east, including Diyarbakır, Batman, Van and Şırnak.

This heavy-handedness is likely to take its toll on the peace process between Turkey and its Kurds.

Turkey has a poor record in handling peaceful demonstrations. Last year’s Gezi Park events started as peaceful demonstrations against the government’s controversial plans to demolish the small public park in Taksim Square to make way for a shopping mall.  Protestors were met with a similar heady-handed reaction of the government, triggering scorching criticism from the international community.

According to Human Rights Association (İHD), one of EMHRN members in Turkey, “this violent response to peaceful demonstrations illustrates the Government’s security-oriented policy towards freedom of assembly.”

“Turkey should comply with its international human rights commitments, including respect for the rights of freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.” Says Osman İşçi, IHD International Affairs Secretary and EMHRN Executive Committee Member. “The government should promptly conduct effective, independent, and transparent investigation and hold accountable those responsible for excessive use of force against protesters.”

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