182 released from custody, 35 referred to court among May Day detainees in İstanbul

Turkish police detain a protester as he and others attempt to march to Taksim Square, in Mecidiyeköy district near Taksim, during a May Day rally, marking the International Workers' Day, in Istanbul, on May 1, 2024. (Photo by KEMAL ASLAN / AFP)

Among 217 people who were detained during May Day demonstrations in İstanbul on Wednesday, 182 have been released from police custody, while 35 have been referred to court, the Turkish Minute reported, citing the state-run Anadolu news agency.

The 35 detainees were expected to be sent to the İstanbul Courthouse in Çağlayan on Thursday, but their detention has been extended for another day.

More than 42,000 law enforcement officers were deployed in İstanbul on International Workers’ Day to prevent demonstrators from reaching central Taksim Square where they wanted to hold a demonstration.

The Interior Ministry and the İstanbul Governor’s Office announced before May Day that no demonstration would be allowed in Taksim due to security concerns, sparking a backlash from some opposition parties, labor unions and civil society groups.

When the demonstrators wanted to march from Saraçhane to Taksim Square, they faced dozens of riot police who were deployed in streets leading to the square as well as to the historic Aqueduct of Valens, built in the late 4th century to supply water to Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. Photos showing police officers in front of the historic structure led to questions of whether they were deployed to defend the city from foreign invaders or from Turkish citizens who wanted to hold a peaceful demonstration.

A total of 217 demonstrators were detained by the police in İstanbul on Wednesday, according to a statement from Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya, while the total number of detentions across the country was 226. The reason for the detentions was the government’s insistence on limiting the events to certain designated venues.

Yerlikaya said 210 events were held across 78 provinces to mark May Day on Wednesday, attended by 241,000 people.

Twenty-eight police officers were slightly injured in skirmishes with demonstrators, the minister added, thanking the police officers for making it possible for May Day events to be held peacefully.

Video footage on social media showed police officers trying to disperse demonstrators and journalists from reaching Taksim Square.

Taksim Square, which has symbolic importance for demonstrators due to the killing of 34 people by unknown assailants on May Day in 1977, has become a subject of tension and confrontation between the government and labor unions in the days leading up to May Day since 2013.

Until 2009, Taksim was off limits to demonstrators following Bloody May Day in 1977. About three decades after the incident, under tight security, Taksim Square became the venue of peaceful demonstrations aside from a few minor incidents in 2010, 2011 and 2012. The area was closed to demonstrations again in 2013 out of security concerns.

The Turkish government has come under fierce criticism for its refusal to allow a May Day demonstration in Taksim despite a Constitutional Court decision last year that found right violations in the ban for May Day demonstrations in the area.

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