In advance of annual May 1 demonstrations, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is talking tough again. “Give up your hope of Taksim,” he said. According to Turkish media, tens of thousands of police have been mobilized.
In a public statement on April 28, Amnesty noted its concern at the Turkish government’s decision to once again refuse access of demonstrators to Taksim Square. It called on Turkish authorities to “reverse this decision and to respect the right of trade unionists and others wishing to hold peaceful assemblies on Mayday.” Moreover, “authorities must ensure that unnecessary and abusive force is not used against demonstrators.”The statement notes that, in recent years, when the authorities allowed demonstrations in Taksim Square, they passed without injury or damage to property. However, “[on] occasions where the authorities have refused permission… they have resulted in the use of abusive force by police against demonstrators, injuries and major disruption across the city.”
In 2010, 2011 and 2012, large-scale, peaceful, Mayday demonstrations were held without incident in Taksim Square with the approval of the authorities. In 2013 the authorities refused to allow Mayday demonstrations to go ahead in Taksim citing construction work taking place in the square. Public transport links were suspended and police used abusive force against demonstrators in areas surrounding Taksim, resulting in scores of injuries as seen in the years preceding 2009. A trial of 33 people accused of taking part in the unauthorized 2013 Mayday demonstrations continues. If convicted they face up to three years imprisonment.
With the completion of a recent construction project in Taksim, the government’s previous rationale for refusing demonstrator’s access to the Square is no longer tenable. A year ago, the Turkish government’s attempts to limit freedom of assembly and expression last year, as well as the brutal scenes of police violence were an ugly precursor to the even more extensive violence of the Gezi protests a month later. The Turkish government must not repeat these tragic mistakes again this year.
St. Lawrence University