Third indictment seeks up to 15-year sentences for May Day demonstrators

Protesters scuffle with riot police as they attempt to defy a ban and march to Taksim Square during a May Day rally, marking International Workers' Day, at the Saraçhane Park aqueduct in İstanbul, on May 1, 2024. (Photo by Yasin AKGUL / AFP)

A new indictment seeks a prison sentence of up to 15-and-a-half years for 12 people, eight of whom are in pretrial detention, for attempting to defy a government ban on holding May Day demonstrations in central İstanbul, Turkish Minute reported, citing the state-run TRT Haber.

This is the third indictment drafted by the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office against May Day demonstrators who confronted law enforcement in İstanbul to mark International Workers’ Day in central Taksim Square.

The indictment, accepted by the İstanbul 25th Penal Court of First Instance, directs multiple charges at the suspects, including violating the law on assemblies and demonstrations, resisting a public officer, intentionally causing injury and vandalism.

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

Last week, two other indictments were also drafted by the İstanbul’s Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office against 42 demonstrators who are currently in pretrial detention.

There are 30 defendants in the first indictment, while the second indictment charges 12 others.

The proposed prison sentences for the 42 demonstrators is a total of 567 years. They face the same charges as the suspects in the third indictment.

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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