Saturday Mothers protesting disappearance of family members face prosecution

The İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office has started legal action against a group of protestors known as the Saturday Mothers, who have come together every week in İstanbul’s İstiklal Street since 1995 to silently protest extra-judicial killings and state-enforced disappearances involving their sons, husbands and fathers, mostly Kurdish citizens.

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.

The prosecutor’s office drafted an indictment stating that the meeting had been banned because it posed a threat to national security, public order and public norms. Prosecutor Fatih Dönmez requested 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.”

Referring to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, he said, “Should we have allowed them to use motherhood as a cover for terrorism?”

The PKK is considered a terrorist organization by the United States, Turkey and the European Union.

On behalf of the Saturday Mothers, lawyer Gülseren Yoleri spoke out against the trial, tweeting that they were abused by the police during the meeting and were entitled to organize protests and meetings demanding justice for their disappeared family members.

“We have been protesting our losses for 119 weeks, and the government has changed 17 times in the meantime. However, the governments’ denial that our families have lost loved ones has not changed. Freedom from punishment has become state policy in this regard.”

They added that the Turkish judicial system was far from observing international judicial standards. “The Turkish judiciary is preventing investigations that would unearth what happened to our families. It is preventing those who are responsible from being held accountable in court.”

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.

“The government needs to stop using the judiciary as their weapon, and they need to stop seeing the search for justice as a crime,” they said.

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 disappearances and killings 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.

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