Saturday Mothers attacked and detained again on the 963rd week of action

Despite a contrary ruling by the Turkish Constitutional Court, Istanbul police have again attacked the Saturday Mothers' gathering at Galatasaray Square. Several people were taken into custody in the crackdown.

Turkish police have again attacked the Saturday Mothers at Galatasaray Square in Istanbul. The initiative wanted to make a statement for the 963rd time on "disappearances" in state custody and demand punishment for the perpetrators on Istiklal Avenue. But despite a contrary ruling by the Turkish Constitutional Court, the blockade of their ancestral rally site was not lifted today either. The Galatasaray Square on the central Istiklal Avenue was widely cordoned off by barriers and grids in the early morning, with patrol cars and prisoner transport vehicles parked in the side streets. Riot police were deployed with a large contingent to prevent the group from approaching the square.

On their way to Galatasaray Square, the Saturday Mothers were accompanied by numerous human rights defenders, including former deputies Musa Piroğlu of the HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) and Ahmet Şık of TIP (Workers’ Party of Turkey). The group was surrounded by police before they reached Galatasaray Square. The police justified the encirclement with a ban on assembly issued by the district governor’s office.

Ali Tosun, son of Fehmi Tosun, a Kurd who was abducted by Turkish civilian police in Istanbul in 1995 and has been missing since, protested against the action and said: "The highest court of this country has ruled that the siege of this square and the bans and dissolutions of our vigils are unlawful. But the police are defying this ruling and preventing our gatherings. It seems that this country is ruled by a state within a state."

After Tosun's speech, the police broke up the meeting and twenty people were handcuffed and taken into custody. The police were particularly brutal while detaining Ali Ocak, the brother of Hasan Ocak, who was also abducted by the police in Istanbul in 1995 and tortured to death in prison. In addition to Ali Tosun, the others taken into custody are Mikail Kırbayır, Maside Ocak, Hanife Yıldız, Nazım Dikbaş, Ömer Kavran, Deniz Aytaç, Melike Ersoy, Mete Demircigil, Davut Arslan, Hünkar Yurtsever, Doğan Özkan, Cüneyt Yılmaz, Türker Demirci, Necef Arpaçay, Gülendam Özdemir, Hanife Yıldırım, Gülseren Yoleri and Hatice Onaran.

For over 28 years, the Saturday Mothers have been demanding information about their relatives who have disappeared in police custody. It is the longest-running civil disobedience action in Turkey, which began on 27 May 1995 with the sit-in by the family of Hasan Ocak, a teacher murdered by torture. An estimated 17,000 people, including journalists, politicians and human rights activists, "disappeared" in Turkey in the 1980s and 1990s, mainly in the Kurdish regions. Often their bodies were dumped in secret mass graves on military bases, but also on rubbish dumps or in well shafts. Neither the police nor the judiciary have taken any measures to investigate.

Since the 2013 resistance in Istanbul's Gezi Park, protests have been banned in the square in front of the Galatasaray High School. Only the Saturday Mothers were allowed to continue protesting here. But with the accusation of "closeness to the PKK", the initiative's 700th vigil was banned and violently dispersed on 25 August 2018. Since then, all protests in Galatasaray Square have been banned. But this is contrary to the right to freedom of assembly and demonstration, ruled the Turkish Constitutional Court on 22 February 2023, rejecting the ministry's objection that Saturday Mothers threatened the "protection of public order".

"Everyone has the right to take part in unarmed and peaceful assemblies and demonstrations without prior permission," says Article 34 of the Turkish Constitution, which the security authorities violated with their banning order for the forcibly dispersed Saturday Mothers' action in August 2018 and all subsequent ones. The blockade of the square is thus invalid, according to the ruling of the constitutional complaint with which Maside Ocak Kışlakçı was successful. However, the Turkish Interior Ministry and the Istanbul security authorities are ignoring the ruling and are taking violent action against the Saturday Mothers for the 23rd week in a row.