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Saturday Mothers’ weekly vigil attacked

Status: 
Attacked
About the situation

On 18 November 2020, an Istanbul court of first instance filed a lawsuit against 46 people who were arrested on 25 August 2018 during the violent police intervention at the 700th gathering of Saturday Mothers/People in Istanbul’s Galatasaray Square.

On 25 August 2018, police forcibly dispersed the Saturday Mothers’ weekly vigil and detained 47 protesters, including families of the victims of enforced disappearances in the 90s. The detained protesters were released from police custody later that day.

About Cumartesi Anneleri/İnsanları

Saturday Mothers/People is a human rights group, comprised of human rights defenders and families of victims of enforced disappearance in Turkey in the 1990s. They began organising weekly vigils at Galatasaray Square after the detention of Hasan Ocak on 21 March 1995 and the subsequent discovery of his tortured body in a common grave. Human rights defenders and the families of the victims gathered in Galatasaray Square for the first time on 27 May 1995, demanding an end to enforced disappearances, seeking information on the whereabouts of those who have disappeared and justice for the victims.

30 November 2020
Saturday Mothers/People and their supporters face lawsuit for peaceful assembly

On 18 November 2020, an Istanbul court of first instance filed a lawsuit against 46 people who were arrested on 25 August 2018 during the violent police intervention at the 700th gathering of Saturday Mothers/People in Istanbul’s Galatasaray Square. The 46 were charged with violating the Law on Assemblies and Demonstrations for “unarmed participation in an unauthorised assembly and refusal to disperse after warnings” (article 32 of the Law 2911). Among the accused are families of the disappeared and human rights defenders, trade unionists, journalists, and students who were there to show solidarity with Saturday Mothers/People. The first hearing will be held on 25 March 2021.

Saturday Mothers/People is a group comprised of human rights defenders and families of victims of enforced disappearances in Turkey during the 1990s. Human rights defenders and the families of the victims gathered in Galatasaray Square for the first time on 27 May 1995, calling for an end to enforced disappearances, seeking information on the whereabouts of those who have disappeared and demanding justice for the victims. In 1999 the group had to cease their gatherings due to persistent attacks by security forces. Ten years later, on 31 January 2009, Saturday Mothers/People resumed their peaceful gatherings in Galatasaray Square without any disruption, until 25 August 2018.

The indictment refers to the approval of Beyoglu District Governorate of the request of the Beyoglu District Security Directorate for a ban on the gathering based on that the fact that local authorities had not been notified 48 hours before the demonstration. It also quotes the incident report prepared by the police who collided with the group and arrested 46 protestors using force on 25 August 2018. The indictment lists eight riot police officers as complainants.

On 25 August 2018, Saturday Mothers/People and their supporters started walking towards Galatasaray Square to participate in the 700th gathering. However, the protesters’ peaceful march was blocked by the police on the grounds that the assembly had not been approved by the local authority. Shortly after, as the group of protestors insisted on continuing their march, they were attacked by police with tear gas, water canons and rubber bullets. According to video footage and eye witness accounts, the protesters, including the families of those who were forcibly disappeared, human rights defenders, trade unionists, journalists and parliamentarians, were beaten and manhandled by the police

A number of protesters were injured as a result of the excessive use of force by the police and 46 people were handcuffed and taken into police custody. After being forced to wait in a police bus for seven hours, the detained were released following medical examinations. While the 46 people, including human rights defenders, who attended the gathering face a lawsuit for attempting to exercise their right to peaceful assembly, to date, no action is known to have been taken against police officers who used excessive force during the demonstration.

Front Line Defenders believes that the charges brought against the 46 who were arrested are politically motivated, and is seriously concerned by the attempts to criminalise Saturday Mothers/People in response to their peaceful gatherings. Front Line Defenders reminds the Turkish authorities that the right to peaceful assembly is guaranteed under domestic and international law, including the European Declaration of Human Rights, to which Turkey is a party.

Front Line Defenders calls on the authorities in Turkey to drop all the charges against Saturday Mothers/People and their supporters, and guarantee their right to peaceful assembly. It also urges the authorities to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into the allegations concerning excessive use of force by the police in Galatasaray Square on 25 August 2018, with a view to bringing the responsible police officers to justice in accordance with international standards.

31 August 2018
Saturday Mothers’ weekly vigils attacked

On 25 August 2018, police forcibly dispersed the Saturday Mothers’ weekly vigil and detained 47 protesters, including families of the victims of enforced disappearances in the 90s. The detained protesters were released from police custody later that day. So far no action has been taken against the police officers who used excessive force against the peaceful protesters.

Saturday Mothers is a civil society initiative, comprised of human rights defenders and the families of victims of enforced disappearances in Turkey in the 90s, which organises weekly vigils at Istanbul’s Galatasary Square to demand justice. The vigils started after the detention of Hasan Ocak on 21 March 1995 and the subsequent discovery of his tortured body in a common grave. The families of the victims and human rights defenders gathered in Galatasary Square for the first time on 27 May 1995, demanding an end to enforced disappearances, information on the whereabouts of the forcibly disappeared and justice for the victims. The group decided to cease its weekly vigils on 13 March 1999 due to increased attacks from police. After a 10 year break, the vigils resumed on 31 January 2009. On 25 August 2018, the initiative marked its 700th week of protests. In accordance with data released by Truth Justice Memory Center, since the military coup on 12 September 1980 at least 1,352 people have been forcibly disappeared in Turkey. Among the 344 people for whose disappearances a complaint was lodged, perpetrators were only convicted in 2 of the cases, a figure which has been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights.

On 25 August 2018, a group of protesters, including human rights defenders and the families of victims, many of whom were elderly women, started to march towards Galatasaray Square. The protesters’ peaceful march was blocked by the police on the grounds that it was not approved by the Governorate. Shortly after, police attacked the protesters, who insisted on continuing their march, with tear gas, water canons and rubber bullets. According to video footage and eye witness accounts, the protesters, including the families of those who were forcibly disappeared, human rights defenders, and parliamentarians were beaten and manhandled by the police. A number of protesters were injured as a result of excessive use of force by the police and 47 protesters were handcuffed and taken into police custody. The detained protesters were taken to a police bus where they were detained for approximately seven hours, before being taken to Istanbul Police Headquarters following health examinations. By 8:20 p.m. that evening, all of the detained protesters had been released. An investigation has been opened into whether the protesters violated the Law on Assemblies and Demonstrations, however no action has been taken against police officers who used excessive force during the demonstration.

On 27 August 2018, the Ministry of Internal Affairs accused the Saturday Mothers of “being exploited by terrorist organisations” and “using the concept of motherhood to create victimisation, masking terrorism and polarising society”. Additionally, the spokesperson of the governing AKP party stated that “it is not a stance against these mothers, but a response to terrorist groups openly taking advantage of this space”.

Front Line Defenders is seriously concerned at the criminalisation of the Saturday Mothers’ weekly vigils and the use of excessive force against peaceful protesters. Front Line Defenders reminds the Turkish authorities that the right to peaceful assembly is guaranteed under domestic and international law, including the European Declaration of Human Rights, to which Turkey is a party. We call on the Turkish authorities to guarantee the right to peaceful assembly of the Saturday Mothers and other protesters and carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into the allegations of use of excessive force by the police.