Impunity and death in Turkey: Another young life cut short

A tragic turn in a tragic story today, as news sources reported that a teenaged boy, Serhat Savaş succumbed to a wound he received from being struck in the head by a teargas canister last October.  He had been in critical condition for the past seven months.

Details regarding the circumstances in which Savaş was injured are scanty.  His injury does, however, fit a pattern of serious injuries and deaths by police, who often illegally target protestors with teargas canisters.   Prosecutions of such abuses are exceedingly rare.  Convictions almost non-existent. In the aftermath of the Gezi Protests, for example, Amnesty noted that:

The inappropriate use of tear gas by police has been the most devastating on the safety of demonstrators, causing an unknown number of injuries, including serious head injurieswhen the canisters hit protestors. Hundreds of empty tear gas canisters remain on the ground in areas where demonstrations are taking place. On a number of occasions police were seen deliberately targeting individual protestors with tear gas canisters.

Serhat Savaş

Serhat Savaş

Indeed, these abuses have been so pervasive and egregious that Amnesty International has called on foreign suppliers of such weapons to suspends shipments until Turkey’s record improves.

Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s Turkey researcher said at the time,

The Turkish police’s return to the abusive use of force in response to demonstrations underscores the need for all countries to suspend shipments of tear gas and other riot control projectile equipment and armored policing vehicles to Turkey, until steps are taken to prevent such deaths and injuries.

Unfortunately, neither teargas shipments, nor police abuses have stopped.  Until they do, deaths like that of Serhat Savaş will continue.

Howard Eissenstat
St. Lawrence University

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