Police violence against members of anti-gov’t religious group sparks outrage

Turkish police in the southern province of Adana sparked outrage when they employed batons, plastic bullets and pepper spray in what many said was a disproportionate use of force to disperse the members of an anti-government religious group who wanted to hold a peaceful demonstration on Sunday, Turkish Minute reported.

Hundreds of members of the Furkan Foundation gathered in Seyhan’s Cevat Yurdakul Street to make a press statement and hold a march in protest of the continued pretrial detention of eight foundation members who were arrested in January.

Yet, the group’s members including women and children faced acts of violence from the Adana riot police, who used their batons to batter the protestors.

Video footage circulating on social media showed police officers randomly hitting the protestors with their batons while the protestors were heard saying, “Don’t hit me,” and trying desperately to protect themselves.

In one of the videos a police officer wearing a headscarf is seen pushing a headscarved Furkan member to the ground. This particular video attracted particular condemnation, with many saying that the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, which has for years capitalized on the deprivation of the rights of headscarved women by the secularists in Turkey, is now using headscarf-wearing police officers to persecute other headscarf-wearing women.

The AKP and its leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, have for years been claiming to defend the rights of pious Muslims, particularly headscarved women whom they said have been oppressed by the country’s secularists and deprived of their fundamental rights.

Many said the disproportionate use of force against Furkan members in Adana on Sunday had to with their anti-government stance and violated Article 34 of the Turkish Constitution, which says, “Everyone has the right to organize unarmed and peaceful meetings and demonstrations without permission” and was tantamount to torture.

Furkan Foundation President Alparslan Kuytul, who was also among the protestors and was kept for five hours in a warehouse in the area by the police, tweeted after his release: “It’s like they went crazy, becoming monsters. A person can only hit their enemy like that. They were out of control. I wonder what lies they were told about us to cause so much rage among the police.”

Kuytul also said it was impossible to exercise freedom of expression in a country whose interior minister is Süleyman Soylu.

Kuytul’s 15-year-old son, Muhammed, was among those who were subjected to police violence in Adana on Sunday and had to spend the night in a hospital due to bleeding on the brain after he was allegedly hit with a baton.

Kuytul’s wife, Semra, tweeted on Monday that in addition to her son, many Furkan members had suffered broken arms and other kinds of injuries.

Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a prominent human rights activist and an MP from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), lashed out at Interior Minister Soylu and the police treatment of the Furkan members in Adana.

“They recklessly hit a person on the ground. They can’t account for these scenes [of violence] before the law. There’s no limit to their tyranny. The law will come to this country some day,” Gergerlioğlu tweeted as he called on Soylu to explain the scenes in Adana.

Opposition party leaders Felicity Party (SP) leader Temel Karamollaoğlu, Gelecek (Future) Party leader Ahmet Davutoğlu and DEVA Party leader Ali Babacan condemned the AKP government for the police violence in Adana, saying Turkey did not even witness such scenes during the days of the Feb. 28 military coup, when the pious people in the country were under tremendous pressure.

The Feb. 28 coup, also referred to a post-modern coup, refers to the forced resignation of a coalition government in 1997 led by a now-defunct Islamist party on the grounds that there was rising religious fundamentalism in the country. The incident led to widespread restrictions on the lives of pious Muslims with a ban on headscarves for women in public service and universities.

Erk Acarer, a Turkish journalist in exile, tweeted that the police violence against Furkan members had nothing to do with religious or nationalist inclinations and that the only thing the government wants is the continuation of its rule.

“It can even kill a headscarved woman for this and collaborate with the devil,” he said, referring to the AKP, which has been in power since 2002

In the meantime, amid growing criticism, Minister Soylu announced on Sunday evening that an investigation had been launched into the police officers who used “disproportionate force” against Furkan members in Adana.

“Using disproportionate force should not have been our way of handling this,” Soylu said, while accusing Furkan members of holding an illegal protest and getting involved in acts of provocation against the police.

Meanwhile, a voice recording among the riot police officers in Adana that was leaked on social media has them bragging about the violence used by female police officers against the protestors, with one officer heard saying, ”The girls have gotten rid of their frustration.” The police officers are also heard saying that they should have used this kind of force against Furkan members long ago.

The Furkan Foundation is known for being critical of the Turkish government and for advocating that religion and politics should not mix.

The foundation’s president Kuytul was arrested in 2018 for criticizing Turkey’s military involvement in northern Syria. He publicly opposed the government’s decision to send Turkish soldiers to Afrin, after which he was detained along with 28 other people from foundation.

They were charged with “abusing their religious power” and “organizing a terrorist organization.” Kuytul was acquitted in 2020, but raids on members’ homes and offices in various cities have repeatedly taken place since then.

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