Turkey: Saturday Mothers’ weekly vigils must be allowed

Turkish riot police detains protesters of Saturday mothers group demonstration on August 25, 2018 in Istanbul. Istanbul police break up a regular demonstration by Turkish mothers remembering the disappearance of relatives in the 1980s and 1990s, detaining dozens as they marked holding the 700th such weekly protest. / AFP PHOTO / Yasin AKGUL

Front Line Defenders (FLD) has expressed serious concern over  criminalisation of the Saturday Mothers’ weekly vigils and the use of excessive force against peaceful protesters in Turkey. It has reminded the Turkish authorities that the right to peaceful assembly is guaranteed under domestic and international law, including the European Declaration of Human Rights, to which Turkey is a party.

It calls up on the Turkish authorities to guarantee the right to peaceful assembly of the Saturday Mothers and other protesters and carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into the allegations of use of excessive force by the police.

According to FLD, on August 25, police forcibly dispersed the Saturday Mothers’ weekly vigil and detained 47 protesters, including families of the victims of enforced disappearances in the 90s. The detained protesters were released from police custody later that day. So far no action has been taken against the police officers who used excessive force against the peaceful protesters.

Saturday Mothers is a civil society initiative, comprised of human rights defenders and the families of victims of enforced disappearances in Turkey in the 90s, which organises weekly vigils at Istanbul’s Galatasary Square to demand justice. on the whereabouts of the forcibly disappeared and justice for the victims. On  August 25, the initiative marked its 700th week of protests.

On that day, a group of protesters, including human rights defenders and the families of  victims, many of whom were elderly women, started to march towards Galatasaray Square. According to video footage and eye witness accounts, the protesters, including the families of those who were forcibly disappeared, human rights defenders, and parliamentarians were beaten and manhandled by the police.

After two days, the Ministry of Internal Affairs accused the Saturday Mothers of “being exploited by terrorist organisations” and “using the concept of motherhood to create victimisation, masking terrorism and polarising society”.

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