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18 June 2018

Protesters severely beaten and taken into custody by the police

On 8 June 2018, 20 protesters and two reporters were beaten by police and taken into custody. Approximately 50 peaceful protesters, including high school students and recent graduates, gathered to march on Kadıköy’s main street in central Istanbul to protest the deficiencies in the Turkish educational system. All of the protesters were released the following day pending an investigation by the office of the prosecutor. So far no action has been taken against the police officers involved.

The protesters are member of various student youth groups, who have been criticising political oppression and conservative policies, including ongoing educational reforms. The recent reforms have increased references to religion in the school curriculum and are obliging some students to go to religious high schools by reducing the number of non-religious ones. In addition to demanding access to scientific education, the youth groups have criticised the education system’s highly-competitive nature. They also advocate for the rights of young people who were imprisoned for student activism or subjected to police brutality. On 8 June, the student protesters had gathered to march and to give the government a symbolic grade card for its educational policies.

According to eyewitness reports, video footage and photographs, approximately 50 police officers and plainclothes officers blocked the peaceful protesters’ march, and began attacking the protesters shortly thereafter. The protesters, along with two reporters who were documenting the police violence, were manhandled and handcuffed and taken to the police bus where they were severely beaten. They were kept in the police bus for approximately four hours and subjected to physical violence. They were subsequently taken to Numune Hospital for health checks.

Protesters under the age of 18 were taken to the Juvenile Police Bureau, and the rest were taken to the İskele Police Department in Kadıköy to be questioned. The protesters were released on 9 June at around 4.30am. No action has so far been taken against the police officers involved.

According to the protesters’ lawyers, an investigation was opened into whether the protesters and the two reporters violated the Law on Assemblies and Demonstrations. The Law has been used to obstruct the right to peaceful assembly. At least three of the protesters are also being investigated for “felonious assault” and “obstructing a police officer.”

According to one protester, while on the police bus, the police officers insulted them and threatened to break their arms and legs. Protesters also reported that one protester suffered a head injury and passed out while police continued to beat him. Some protesters were reported to have been subjected to electroshock and three others were reported to have been strip-searched in the police department. According to lawyers, bruises and injuries were visible on the bodies of the protesters who were taken into custody.

Front Line Defenders is extremely concerned about the ongoing criminalization of peaceful protesters defending human rights in Turkey. Front Line Defenders believes that the protesters are being targeted solely as a result of exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, guaranteed under domestic and international law. We call on Turkish authorities to drop all charges against the protesters and carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into the allegations, with a view to bringing the responsible police officers to justice in accordance with international standards. We also call on the authorities to guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Turkey are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.