Turkey’s CHP files criminal complaints against minister, governor over May Day ban

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)

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has filed criminal complaints against the country’s interior minister, İstanbul governor and other public officials due to a ban imposed on demonstrations in İstanbul’s central Taksim Square on May Day, which led to dozens of detentions and arrests, Turkish Minute reported, citing the Birgün daily.

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.”

More than 200 demonstrators who wanted to march from Saraçhane to Taksim Square to mark International Workers’ Day were detained. Demonstrators were also taken into custody in the following days on the grounds that they resisted law enforcement to make their way to Taksim.

Forty-nine of the detainees were subsequently arrested. The others were released, some under judicial supervision.

The criminal complaints were filed by CHP lawmaker Süleyman Bülbül, who called the ban on demonstrations in Taksim Square and the police intervention against the demonstrators “unlawful.”

Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya, İstanbul Governor Davut Gül and other public officials who gave orders on May Day to prevent demonstrators from reaching Taksim are accused of “violating the constitution,” “abuse of public office” and “deprivation of liberty” in the criminal complaints in addition to causing various human rights violations.

The government ban on demonstrations in Taksim Square, which has symbolic importance for the demonstrators, contravenes a Constitutional Court decision last year that found violations of the right to free assembly in the controversial ban.

More than 42,000 law enforcement officers were deployed in İstanbul on May Day, while the governor’s office took measures aimed at slowing public transportation across the city to prevent demonstrators from reaching Taksim Square.

İstanbul Governor Gül attracted criticism due to his remarks about the detained demonstrators. Addressing the detention of more than 200 people in İstanbul on May Day, Gül tweeted: “No crime is left without punishment. 210 people have been detained. The state may postpone it [punishing a crime], but it never leaves it unpunished.”

The criticism of Gül stemmed from his decision to treat May Day demonstrators who wanted to exercise a democratic right as criminals.

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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