Istanbul’s Istiklal Caddesi is notoriously busy. Especially on Saturday evenings, when thousands of people, tourists and locals, stroll between Taksim Square and Tünel, willing to spend their money on clothes, food or drinks.
It also the time when Turkish police officials regularly decide to send some police busses and water canon trucks to the Galatasaray Lisesi, a private school, quite in the middle of the Istiklal Caddesi. It is a popular meeting point and a spot for small rallies and manifestations of all kind.
On 31 May 2014, one year after the so-called “Gezi park protests”, police was also present at that spot. The situation was tense and many people took to the streets to protests – the majority peacefully. Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had warned protesters before that the police had taken “absolute orders, they will do everything“.
And in fact, they did. Around 35.000 policemen and 50 water cannon trucks were deployed to crackdown on the protest. Taksim square was sealed. One scene, however, is particularly disturbing. Video footage shows, how police chased a group of people on Istiklal Caddesi and the moment they arrive at the Galatasaray Lisesi they are being attacked from the front and the side. Policemen were indiscriminately shooting rubber bullets at close range, people stumbled, some crawling on the ground trying to escape the teargas.
“The situation has worsened”, said Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s researcher for Turkey at the press conference for their new report “Adding injustice to injury: One year on from the Gezi Park protests in Turkey”, which was published on 10 June, 2014 in Istanbul. “You can not gather and have your right to protest”.
Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s General Secretary, who was also at the press conference, urged that “a serious change in attitude by the government is necessary”. He criticized the on-going and abusive use of force by the police, the targeting of medical staff at the protests and new laws criminalizing the right to freedom of assembly.
According to Amnesty more than 5500 people have been prosecuted in connection with the Gezi park protests so far. In contrast to that number, only five prosecutions have been brought up against policemen. “The police is blocking investigations”, Shetty said.
In its report the organization also highlighted the case of the Taksim Solidarity Platform, a loose coalition of around 100 NGOs, which is accused of being a “criminal organisation”. The trial started 12 June, 2014, five members are prosecuted. One of the defendants is Mücella Yapici, a spokesperson of the platform. If convicted, she and her colleagues might face prison sentences up to 15 years.
Amnesty condemned the prosecution of the Taksim Solidarity Movement to be political motivated and to be “a show trial”. Mücella Yapici, who was also at the press conference, said that she and her colleagues “remain confident”. A recent Amnesty video with her can be seen here: