Indictments seek lengthy prison sentences for 42 May Day demonstrators in pretrial detention

Turkish police detain a protester as he and others attempt to march to Taksim Square, at Mecidiyekoy district near Taksim, during a May Day (Labour Day) rally, marking International Workers' Day, in Istanbul, on May 1, 2024. - Turkish police on May 1, 2024 detained dozens of protesters attempting to tear down barricades in different districts of Istanbul after authorities banned May 1 rallies at the city's main Taksim Square. (Photo by KEMAL ASLAN / AFP)

Two indictments drafted separately by Turkish prosecutors seek prison sentences of up to 13-and-a-half years for each of 42 people arrested for defying a government ban to hold a May Day demonstration in central İstanbul, Turkish Minute reported, citing the Birgün daily.

Some 200 demonstrators who wanted to march from İstanbul’s Saraçhane neighborhood to Taksim Square, which has symbolic importance, to mark International Workers’ Day were detained on May 1. Demonstrators were also taken into custody in the following days on accusations that they resisted law enforcement to make their way to Taksim.

There are 30 defendants in the first indictment drafted by the İstanbul’s Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, while the second indictment directs charges at 12 other demonstrators.

The proposed prison sentences for the 42 demonstrators currently in pretrial detention is a total of 567 years. They face multiple charges including violating the law on assemblies and demonstrations, resisting a public officer, intentionally causing injury and vandalism.

There are currently 74 May Day protestors in pretrial detention. In the latest wave of detentions following house raids on May 21, 27 of them were detained and subsequently arrested.

The Interior Ministry and the İstanbul Governor’s Office announced before May Day that no demonstrations would be allowed in Taksim due to security concerns, sparking a backlash from opposition parties, labor unions and civil society groups who said the ban was “unconstitutional.”

The government ban on demonstrations in Taksim Square contravenes a Constitutional Court decision last year that found violations of the right to free assembly in the controversial ban.

The symbolic importance of Taksim Square stems from the killing of 34 people by unknown assailants on May Day in 1977. The area 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.

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