Waiting for Justice Amidst the Tear Gas

Memorial for Sarisuluk in Ankara (open access source from Vikipedi)

Memorial for Sarisuluk in Ankara (open access source from Vikipedi)

26-year-old Ethem Sarisuluk was shot in the head by a Turkish police officer on June 1, 2013.  He died of his injuries two weeks later. As described in Amnesty’s recent report on the Gezi crackdown:

The moment when the police officer shot Ethem Sarısülük in the head was filmed and the video which identifies the riot police officer via his helmet number has been widely circulated on social media. The video shows the police officer moving forward, separating himself from other riot police officers, and kicking a protestor who is on the ground then firing shots from a revolver as protestors around him continue to throw stones in the direction of the police. The video shows the police officer firing three shots, two into the air and a third shot parallel to the ground. This third bullet hit Ethem Sarısülük who was around five metres from the police officer at the time the shot was fired.

The case is one of the most troubling in the sad history of the Gezi Protests and the on-going trial of the police officer accused in the shooting is being watched closely by Sarisuluk’s family and friends, by the general public, and by Amnesty International.

Unfortunately, there is serious cause for concern.“In the case of Ethem Sarısülük,” Amnesty notes, “the police officer [was indicted] …on the least serious charges possible. There are also alarming indications that both Ethem Sarısülük’s family and potential witnesses are being harassed.”

The report continues notes that prosecutors only inspected the crime scene on June 7 and, although “the identity of the police officer was never in question, it was not until 14 June, two weeks after the shooting, that the police officer was detained and a statement taken from him prior to his release on the same day.”

[The police officer] is accused of causing death by exceeding the limits of legitimate defence (Articles 81 and 27/1 of the Penal Code) The prosecution was initially halted by the trial judge on the grounds that permission was required from the authorities to prosecute a public official for an act committed during the course of his duties. This has since been overturned by a higher court….

A lawyer representing the family of Ethem Sarısülük told Amnesty International that of the three witnesses he found, an arrest warrant had since been issued against one of them while another had been detained and held in pre-trial detention before later being released, in connection with offences allegedly committed in the course of the demonstrations.

Ethem Sarısülük’s older brother and sister told Amnesty International that they had been harassed and threatened by plain clothes police officers at the hospital where Ethem Sarısülük was in a coma. They also told Amnesty International that they had both received threatening phone calls from unknown individuals since the death of their brother. Their lawyer alleged that another individual who had expressed interest in being a witness in the case has subsequently received threatening phone calls.

The first hearing was postponed when defendant lawyers complained about the large number of police officers who were attending the trial, arguing that such a large police presence amounted to intimidation.  The hearing yesterday ended with a rulings rejecting requests by the victim’s family that the accused be detained during the trial proceedings and granting the accused the opportunity to testify via video camera.  The court was adjourned until December 2.

Outside the courtroom, the scene recalled those of the  Gezi protests as police pushed back protestors with water cannon and tear gas.

Howard Eissenstat, St. Lawrence University

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