The same police that Erdoğan has been praising for “passing the test of democracy” and “writing an epic” with their conduct have upped their game and are letting plastic bullets fly. Middle of Istiklal High Street in Istanbul:
My latest post (yesterday) summarises the magnitude of disproportional violence perpetrated by the police and the attitude the goverment has assumed.
Today, domestic news outlets have picked up on yet another case which can only be described as torture. A video footage of five police officers in Istanbul (Sancaktepe) beating up, dragging through the street and leaving the limp body of Hakan Yaman has been handed to the Office of the Public Prosecutor.
The video footage is unfortunately way too blurred to make out what is going on, but Yaman’s lawyer states in his bill of certiorari, “Around 22.30-23.00 on 3 June 2013, whilst walking back to his home… Hakan Yaman was assaulted by 5 policemen working with the TOMA and has inflicted serious wounds, losing one eye during the process.”
“As a result of the police’s actions, he was shot by a gas cannister in his stomach. After collapsing on the ground, he was beaten up by 5 police officers who tortured him, gouged one of his eyes out with a sharp object. After remaining stationary, his body was dragged to a bonfire nearby and thrown onto the fires.”
“This is an undeniable case of torture. As if the beating was not enough, they gouged out his eye and on top of that thinking he was dead, through him into the fire. These monstrous actions can be seen in recorded footages”.
Without wanting to sound like I am defending the police, the footage which I have linked below is not clean enough to make out exactly what is going on. Having said this, the medical report that has also been handed to the Public Prosecutor shows the burn marks and all other inflicted wounds.
The Police are above the law
The Ministry of Interior’s own estimates place 2.5 million people on the streets protesting in 79 cities. These millions chant, “don’t lay your hands on my freedom, my future, my body, my beliefs, my trees”. These demands are universally recognised human rights. When a right is declared as universal, it means that this right can not be taken away under any circumstance.
As Turkish citizens, we are blessed with a PM who has exported to the world a new human right: “Using teargas is the police’s most natural right”… In conjunction with this quote, Erdoğan stated on June 18th that “the Police have passed the test of Democracy”, outwardly endorsing their disproportional violence over the past weeks. Yesterday, he gave a speech at the graduation ceremony of the Police Academy, reiterating similar messages.
According to the Turkish Medical Association, so far a total of 7836 people have been injured, 101 people have skull fractures, 14 have lost an eye, 60 are critically wounded and 4 have lost their lives. The internet is riddled with cases of police brutality but even the most blatant cases of police misconduct go unpunished.
For example, Ethem Sarısülük lost his life in Ankara after being shot by policeman Ahmet Şahbaz. Şahbaz was finally taken to the 13th Criminal Court of Justice in Ankara. The courts acknowledged that Şahbaz had indeed shot and killed Sarısülük but decreed that it was “within the limits of self defence”.
A video of 13 policemen beating the **** out of 2 students was caught on CCTV footage but no action has been taken as of yet (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K25hNF0Y8xY) These case studies do not come as a surprise. Afterall, the assasination of Hrant Dink – Turkish/Armenian journalist/editor of Agos newspaper – in 2007 is the most engrained proof of this. A ‘trophy’ picture of Ogün Samast (the assasin) with policemen after he was taken into custody and the promotion of these officers is the most clear cut example that I can think of.
Rapists are also above the law
Another issue that is on the agenda is the case of a 16 year old girl who has been sexually harassed and raped on numerous accounts by 5 sergeants of the Turkish Military. Whilst 4 of the officers were arrested on charges of rape, after appeals to a higher court were made, the officers were released and the court decreed that investigations would be made in secrecy. So, as it stands, no information is available and the rapists are free to go.
Protesters voicing democratic rights are arrested under Anti-Terror Laws
The ‘Gezi Operations’ are ongoing and the witch-hunt is well underway. These arrests are made in accordance with Article 10 of the Anti-Terror Law. The police have been ‘gathering information’ on the supposed ringleaders of the Gezi Protests and carrying out raids, collecting groups in 20s-30s.
To give a few indicative examples, in Ankara, out of one group of 26, 23 were imprisoned (pending trial) on June 22nd. In the same wave of arrests, 9 were arrested in Istanbul. In Adana, 7 arrests were made yesterday (June 24th). In İzmir, 13 were arrested on June 23rd.
This is not a complete list, but merely the tip of the iceberg. Moreover, these numbers on its own do not reflect the magnitude of the operations. According to the Turkish Bar Association, over the past 3 weeks or so, around 4,900 protesters have been taken into custody. Although most of those arrested were released shortly after, the intended intimidation effect of these large scale swoops should not be underestimated.
No Justice in Turkey:
When protesters demand their democratic rights, 4900 people are arrested. Then, their lawyers are beaten up at the Court of Justice (44 lawyers to be exact). Then an enquiry into why doctors have been practicing on injured protesters is put underway. Journalists who are documenting the riots are dissuaded, their footage taken away or arrested. The few TV stations that provide unbiased LIVE feeds are fined by censorship board for “inciting violence”.
Meanwhile, Erdoğan points a finger to the ‘interest lobby’ and international organisations who aim to destabilise the economy and overthrow their government for garnering the riots. He highlights the material damage incurred as a result of the riots but does not stop the think once on the damage to human life (caused by “his” police). In reaction to tides of anger against the police, he declares “I will not allow my police to be undermined”.
In political systems where there is rule of law, those that have been wronged and those who have been the recipient of violence are the ones who are protected. In Erdoğan’s “advanced democracy” (ileri demokrasi), the reality is closer to a democracy of the majority and a legal state that protects the perpetrator.
Currently, there are 8 elected MPs, thousands of politicians and tens of elected municipal councillors behind bars. At the same time, Erdoğan has the audacity to hold 4 rallies in 4 corners of the country – amidst anti-government riots – with the title “Respect For The National Will Rallies”.
The test of democracy can only be passed by adhering to internationally binding legal principles, by removing the 10% national election barrier, by guaranteeing the rights and freedoms of its citizens and by giving up on preferential treatment when it comes to the police force.
Over the past few days, the number of tweets and pictures of burn victims from being blasted by the ‘TOMA’ water cannon tanks have been attracting attention. There are also pictures of policemen pouring a barrel of ‘Jenix’ into the TOMA to give further credibility to these statements.
The government decided it would be appropriate to adress the big fat elephant in the room. Istanbul Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu made a statement on June 16th saying that the TOMAs contained “drugs, not chemicals”… Yes, turns out that the stuff is a form of pepper spray. Anyway, you can get to the details of the stuff online. Jetix claim that it doesn’t harm people’s health or the environment and has no side effects. The Turkish Medical Association on the other hand state that it can cause “serious damage to eyes, asthma, lung edema, hart attacks and brain hemorrhages.”
Whether the water of TOMAs contain drugs or chemicals is a rather ridiculous debate when so many people are exposed to shitloads of Tear Gas in the first place. What is being referred to as tear gas (OC -Oleoresincapsicum and CS- Chlorobenzylidenemalononitrile) causes agitation and burns on the skin which can be as bad as first degree burns.
The Mayor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu: He stands out tall amongst the least popular individuals over the protests and for good reason. Only 1 month before the Gezi Protests, the 1 May Celbrations in Istanbul was also oppressed by the police. Only difference was that the international press wasn’t around and the resistance wasn’t as strong. A 17 year old named Dilan Alp was critically wounded and spent 5 days in intensive care. All the Mayor had to say in his press statement then was that the media were guilty for “making up, speculative, agitation seeking stories” and that he was there “to tell the truth as the job of the Mayor”: “Dilan is 19 yo. She is a member of an organisation (the term ‘örgüt’ implies illegality in Turkish)” at which point he clarifies, “she is a marginal and we have files on her, she is a radical”. His tone throughout the statement is cold, cornered and aggressive: the main signal is no remorse. During the protests, on the 11th of June when the police made it past the barricades up to taksim, Mayor Mutlu stated that the police would refrain from using violence. In the evening, the police used excessive force as always on a large crowd and also threw tear gas into Gezi Park. He also made a publicity stunt by writing on twitter that he would meet Gezi protesters at 24.00 on the 14th June at Dolmabahçe (Near Beşiktaş – another smaller centre of the protests)