Saturday Mothers trial is part of Turkey’s relentless crackdown on civil society: rights groups

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Front Line Defenders have urged Turkish authorities to call for the immediate acquittal of 46 people and guarantee their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in the trial of the Saturday Mothers.

In a joint statement human rights organizations said the prosecution of 46 individuals is the most recent action in a “relentless crackdown on civil society, human rights defenders and those who peacefully express their dissent in Turkey.”

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, took place today.

The group made a statement in front of the Çağlayan Courthouse in İstanbul before the hearing, saying “What is being prosecuted in this trial is our search for truth and justice.”

“[Turkish authorities] should ensure an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into the allegations of excessive use of force and ill-treatment by the police in Istanbul’s Galatasaray Square on 25 August 2018, with a view to bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international fair trial standards,” the joint statement said.

Forty-six people are charged with “refusal to disperse despite warning and use of force” under Article 32/1 of the Law on Meetings and Demonstrations (No. 2911) during the 700th weekly vigil of the Saturday Mothers.

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.

According to the indictment drafted by the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, the meeting had been banned because it posed a threat to national security, public order and public norms. The Turkish prosecutor is requesting sentences ranging from six months to three years for the 46 defendants.

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 Workers’ 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 repeatedly 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.

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