Gezi Park trial verdict sparks protests across Turkey

A Turkish court’s verdict sentencing leading businessman and rights defender Osman Kavala to life in prison and seven others to 18 years each on charges of instigating the anti-government Gezi Park protests of 2013 has sparked nationwide protests in Turkey, Turkish Minute reported.

Following the announcement of the verdict, lawyers in İstanbul decided to launch a “Justice Watch” at the Çağlayan main courthouse in the city, which started at 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday.

“There was a disaster in this courthouse yesterday. We have experienced a disgrace that we cannot call the [rule of] law, through officers assigned by the political power,” lawyer Kemal Ataç said during the protest in Çağlayan.

A message from lawyer Can Atalay, one the seven defendants sentenced to 18 years and arrested as a result of the decision in the Gezi case, was also read out.

“We defended the last remaining public green space in the city center of İstanbul. Each of us who opposed the violence of the police came out in protest. ‘Taksim Gezi’ is concrete proof that different ideas and different worldviews can live in peace in a pluralist, egalitarian and libertarian environment. ‘Taksim Gezi’ reminds this country of the taste of sharing bread and working together. Gezi is the hope of these lands for equality, freedom and justice. We carry the social, political and legal remnants of Gezi with honor. We defended, defend and will defend Gezi. We want justice. Justice for man, air, land and water. We will fight together, we will win together,” Atalay said in his message.

The protests in 2013 erupted over government plans to demolish Gezi Park in Taksim. They quickly turned into mass anti-government demonstrations that were violently suppressed by the government, leading to the death of 11 protestors due to the use of disproportionate force by the police.

A large crowd gathered on Tuesday in İstanbul’s Beyoğlu district, protesting Monday’s verdict and chanting pro-Gezi slogans.

The US Embassy in Turkey warned Americans to exercise caution and avoid large crowds.

“The Turkish National Police (TNP) has used measures including water cannons, tear gas, and non-lethal projectiles to control crowds at similar protests in the past. There is a strong possibility similar measures will be employed at this demonstration. Demonstrations are also expected to take place in other cities in Turkey, including Ankara, Bursa, Mersin, Izmir, and Adana. Avoid areas of demonstrations and protests as they can be unpredictable and at times become violent,” the embassy said in a statement on Tuesday.

Another protest led by the Ankara Bar Association took place in front of the city’s main courthouse, with lawyers from various NGOs chanting slogans in support of the imprisoned activists.

There were also protests in İzmir and the Kadıköy district of İstanbul.

In January 2021 the İstanbul Regional Court’s 3rd Criminal Chamber overturned a decision rendered by the İstanbul 30th High Criminal Court that acquitted Kavala and others of charges of instigating the anti-government Gezi Park protests, citing a lack of evidence.

The case was sent to a first-degree court for retrial.

This time, the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court convicted Kavala, Mücella Yapıcı, Can Atalay, Tayfun Kahraman, Çiğdem Mater, Mine Özerden, Hakan Altınay and Yiğit Ali Ekmekçi of charges linked to the 2013 protests.

They were accused of seeking to overthrow the government by orchestrating the mass protests that rocked the country in 2013.

Pro-Erdoğan judge issued the verdict

According to Evren İşler, one of the lawyers for the defendants, a member of the panel of three judges who heard the trial has been a staunch follower of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was a party to the case as one of the plaintiffs.

A year before becoming a judge, Murat Bircan was a candidate for MP as a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

“In this trial, Erdoğan is the first plaintiff. Does [Bircan] need any instructions? Member judge already likes him, he is a fan [of Erdoğan’s] leadership,” İşler said.

Lawyers have also produced local media reports that cite Bircan as making strong pro-Erdoğan statements.

“Turkey needs the [presidential] system that will be implemented after June 24. The presidential system will make positive contributions to the lives of every individual and segment and will bring stability to our country. For a strong Turkey, we need a strong leader. This powerful leader is our president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. For the bright future of our country and nation, this step should be taken under the leadership of our President,” Bircan was quoted as saying prior to the 2018 elections.

Despite lawyers efforts to cast doubt on the impartiality of Judge Bircan, the panel of judges rejected a request for him to recuse himself from the case.

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