Human rights activist Sebla Arcan has said by pressing charges against the Saturday Mothers, Turkish authorities had targeted everyone who was seeking justice and freedom, the Bianet news website reported.
The first hearing in the trial of members of the Saturday Mothers, a group comprising families of victims of state-enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings who have been gathering every Saturday in İstanbul’s İstiklal Street for a silent protest since 1995, will take place on Thursday.
Arcan, of the Human Rights Association (İHD), said the protestors had come together to exercise their freedom of expression and freedom to demonstrate but were met with police brutality. She claimed that the trial was political and aimed to criminalize human rights activists.
Arcan said they had not expected police intervention because their demonstrations were recognized by authorities and were legal. “Suddenly they [police] used forced against us during the demonstration,” she said
The Saturday Mothers had wanted to hold their 700th gathering on İstiklal Street on August 25, 2018, the same way they had organized the previous 699 gatherings. However, the Beyoğlu district governor’s office refused to let it take place.
Nevertheless, the Saturday Mothers and other supporters moved forward with the gathering and are now charged with unlawfully attending protests and meetings.
According to Arcan these charges were political because no part of their demonstration had been illegal. “We did not violate any laws or commit criminal activity,” she said.
Arcan said the rule of law was already suspended in Turkey and that basic rights and freedoms were criminalized by the authorities.
According to the indictment drafted by the prosecutor’s office, the meeting had been banned because it posed a threat to national security, public order and public norms. Prosecutor Fatih Dönmez is requesting sentences ranging from six months to three years for 46 individuals.
Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said they did not allow the 700th gathering because they wanted the “total sham to end” and that the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) was using motherhood as a cover for terrorism.
The PKK is considered a terrorist organization by the United States, Turkey and the European Union.
The Saturday Mothers stressed that in a democratic country every citizen who demands justice should have the opportunity to express themselves in a peaceful manner. They said if citizens do not have this opportunity, then there can be no talk of democracy, justice or reform.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), in the 1990s, during armed conflict between the Turkish military and the PKK in southeastern Turkey, the security forces compelled hundreds of thousands of people to abandon their villages and carried out the enforced disappearance and killing of thousands of civilians.
Human Rights Watch also said Turkey’s 20-year statute of limitations on the prosecution of unlawful killings in the 1990s remains a major obstacle to justice.