A group of mothers and other family members of people forcibly disappeared in Turkey since the 1980 coup have been banned from holding their regular vigils for their loved ones on İstiklal Avenue in the center of İstanbul, according to a report by online news outlet Ahval on Wednesday.
The Saturday Mothers were faced with a police intervention as they held their 700th sit-in last weekend, resulting in dozens of detentions and bringing the group back to the country’s agenda.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had offered words of support to the group after a meeting with one of its best-known figures, Berfo Kırbayır, in 2011.
Yet since then, the promises to return the remains of those lost in enforced disappearances went largely unfulfilled, and Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) governments have progressively ramped up crackdowns on opposition groups and demonstrations of dissent.
On Tuesday Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu hinted that the demonstrations, which have been taking place for 23 years, would be prohibited. The next day, AKP spokesperson Ömer Çelik confirmed the ban.
“Motherhood has no politics and no ideology. We are forced to take these precautions after events [last weekend]. This is not a stance against these mothers … but a response to terrorist groups openly taking advantage of this space,” Çelik claimed on Wednesday.
Many of the loved ones mourned by the Saturday Mothers were killed during the 1990s, a decade when conflict with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) raged in Turkey’s Southeast.
Soylu on Tuesday said the protests were linked to the PKK and accused the group of “trying to create victims through motherhood and mask terrorism through that victimization.”
Opposition figures, however, have come out in strong support of the long-running protest. “There was a time when the police helped these people to carry out their vigil. To criminalize such an established protest now is an attempt to intimidate the rest of the public,” Reuters quoted pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Deputy Ahmet Şık as saying.