Gezi demonstrators under close scrutiny after park’s evacuation

Gezi demonstrators under close scrutiny after park’s evacuation

Riot police detained British journalist Adrian Walker, who was covering the clashes in İstanbul’s Sıraselviler on Sunday. (Photo: Today’s Zaman)

June 17, 2013, Monday/ 17:06:00/ FATMA DİŞLİ ZIBAK

Recent remarks from government figures suggesting that those who supported Gezi Park demonstrations in some way will be called to account, and the fact that hundreds of individuals joining in the protests have been detained after protesters were evicted from the park on Saturday have raised concerns that the government has launched a crackdown on protest supporters.

“We know very well who sent 30,000 packages of food to Taksim Square. We know very well who hosted those collaborating with terrorists in their hotels. Should they not be called to account for this? If we don't call them to account for this, the nation will do this,” the prime minister said.

Erdoğan's remarks came during a rally of his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in the Kazlıçeşme Square of İstanbul on Sunday. He was referring to those who provided food or shelter to Gezi Park demonstrators after the police intervened in the area. Some artists, school principals and business groups also got their share of Erdoğan's criticisms for their support of the demonstrations.

The government organized rallies in Ankara on Saturday and in İstanbul on Sunday as a counter move against Gezi Park demonstrations, which began in İstanbul's central square of Taksim in late May and spread across the country due to the use of excessive force by the police and a long-lasting battle of words between the demonstrators and the government.

The demonstrations began in protest of government plans to demolish Gezi Park in Taksim and build the replica of an Ottoman-era military barracks and a shopping mall there.

The demonstrations which turned violent and involved vandalism from time to time gained momentum through social media.

Individuals who supported the demonstrations on social media have been under close scrutiny.

In early June, 34 people were detained in İzmir for allegedly spreading false information and provoking protests on Twitter. The prosecutor's office released 33 detainees after they were questioned by police, sending the remaining suspect to court. Reports also said police are searching for four others on the same charges.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Interior Minister Muammer Güler said investigations carried out against social media users “who spread untrue information” from their accounts will also be carried out in other provinces as well.

The minister said the government also plans to prepare a new law concerning such crimes.

“The Justice Ministry and relevant ministries will study this issue. Society was faced with inaccurate news during the Gezi incidents and because of this our operations into those [spreading inaccurate news on social media] will continue,” he said.

Also on Monday, Minister Güler said civil servants who take part in Gezi Park demonstrations will have to bear the consequences.

“I request this from workers and civil servants in particular. I expect them not to attend illegal demonstrations. Or else, they will have to bear the consequences,” he said.

The number of individuals detained following the police intervention in Gezi Park on Saturday has significantly increased.

Riot police firing tear gas and water cannons stormed Gezi Park on Saturday night and emptied the park within a half-hour. Municipal workers later removed the tents from the park.

In the incidents that broke out following Saturday's intervention, police detained 441 people in İstanbul and 56 people in Ankara for their involvement in Gezi Park incidents. The detainees include members of Beşiktaş football club's fan club, popularly known as Çarşı. According to the Turkish Doctors Union, there are one doctor and three nurses among the detainees in İstanbul.

Human Rights Association (İHD) President Öztürk Türkdoğan is one of those who is concerned about the government crackdown on the supporters of Gezi Park demonstrations.

“Turkey's Counterterrorism Law (TMK), which has a broad definition of terrorism and terror organizations, the government's security policies and the practices of the prosecutors and courts justify the concerns,” he told Today's Zaman.

Türkdoğan said that if legal action will be taken against those who resorted to vandalism and violated the limits associated with the right to demonstrate during the protests, no specially-authorized prosecutors or courts should be involved in the procedures and the cases should be heard at courts of first instance.

“If people face legal sanctions and terrorism charges just because of exercising their right to demonstrate, then this may lead to severe consequences and they may begin to react in a marginal way,” he warned.

Türkdoğan also called on the government to launch legal action against public officials and police who used excessive force against demonstrators, which lead to more than 5,000 people being injured in the demonstrations. Five people including a police commissioner were also killed during the demonstrations.

A 16-year-old boy, identified as Berkin Elvan, who was injured by a tear gas container thrown by the police in Taksim on Saturday, remains in critical condition.

Elvan who was injured in the head and had broken bones in his skull was operated on at Okmeydanı Hospital in İstanbul and he is still being cared at intensive care unit of the hospital.

According to chairman of the Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed Peoples (MAZLUMDER) Ahmet Faruk Ünsal, when there is no legal action taken regarding the death or injuries suffered by those who joined the demonstrations, it is not right for the government to initiate legal action against the individuals who were involved in the demonstrations.

He said the government's taking swift action to punish those who exercised a democratic right while it has done nothing concerning the harms against demonstrators draws negative public reaction.

He suggested that the government should adopt a calmer attitude and avoid any moves that will stoke tension further.

“It is sure that the demonstrations were abused by some groups. But the government prepared the ground for them to be able to abuse those rights, it was like an opportunity offered to them on a golden plate,” he said.

Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy chairman Erdoğan Toprak also on Monday criticized the detentions and called on the government to act with common sense.

“A right-seeking movement has turned into growing chaos because it was not managed well by the government. Instead of acting with common sense and soothing society, the government launched a witch-hunt. Detention of hundreds of people including Çarşı members is not a sound approach. The government should quit McCarthyism. Such detentions and arrests will trigger a significant response,” he said.

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