ISTANBUL: Twenty-six people went on trial in Istanbul yesterday on charges related to organising anti-government protests last year in a case that rights activists have described as a scandal.
The defendants join an estimated 5,500 people on trial in 95 separate prosecutions, including some on terrorism charges, according to Turkish rights groups, linked to the unrest that challenged Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decade in power.
In the latest court case, five of the defendants are accused of forming a criminal organisation — which they deny — and could face up to 30 years in prison, lawyers said.
The indictment cites, among its primary pieces of evidence, messages on social-media websites Twitter and Facebook that encouraged people to come to public protests.
“It is an absolutely scandalous prosecution that should have never been brought to court,” Andrew Gardner, Turkey researcher for Amnesty International, said earlier this week.
“The indictment is completely without evidence of a crime, in the understanding of international human rights laws and Turkey’s own laws ... The right to peaceful assembly is being put on trial,” he told a news conference.
Most of the defendants are part of Taksim Solidarity, an ad hoc collection of engineers, architects, doctors, business owners and activists who opposed Erdogan’s plans to redevelop Taksim Square, including razing Gezi Park to build a shopping centre, amid a construction boom that has transformed Istanbul.
The small environmental movement to save Gezi, one of the few public green spaces in Europe’s biggest city, quickly mushroomed into nationwide anti-government protests in June 2013, with many accusing Erdogan of authoritarianism.
At least six people died in clashes with police, and the Turkish Medical Association says 10,000 were seriously hurt.
“We came together as Taksim Solidarity to fulfil our duties and protect our most basic constitutional rights,” architect Mucella Yapici, who is accused of leading the protests, told a packed courtroom, denying the charges against her. Yapici’s daughter Cansu, 27, is also on trial.
Other defendants in the latest trial risk between one- and three-year jail terms for offences such as breaking the law on public assembly, according to the indictment.
Thousands of other defendants face charges mainly to do with violent incidents that occurred during the unrest.
“This trial is the government’s effort to discredit the Gezi movement ... but the reality is: Taksim Solidarity awakened public opposition that was dormant since probably the 1980 (military) coup,” said Melda Onur, an opposition lawmaker.
Erdogan’s critics say the government is using courts to quash that political dissent, and some observers say the trials of Gezi activists have a chilling effect on civil society.
“There is no question that there is an atmosphere of intimidation and creation of a fear psychosis within society,” said Amnesty’s secretary-general, Salil Shetty.
ANKARA: Turkey’s Islamic-rooted government has launched a new mass purge in the judiciary in its political fight against an erstwhile ally, and replaced five executives at the central bank.
The country’s top judicial body, the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors, on Wednesday published a list of 2,224 judges and prosecutors who have been reassigned, the latest large-scale shake-up in the wake of a corruption scandal embroiling the government.
Thousands of police and prosecutors have been dismissed or reassigned in what critics have blasted as a government bid to stifle a graft probe launched last year that targets Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his inner circle.
Erdogan has blamed the scandal on supporters of his former ally, exiled Islamic cleric Fetullah Gulen, who he accuses of trying to topple him.
Meanwhile, the central bank has replaced five executives after Erdogan’s strong criticism of the interest rate policies pursued by its governor Erdem Basci, local media reported yesterday.