Turkish court decides to release 8 more May Day protestors, 33 remain jailed

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)

The first hearing in the trial of 12 people, eight of whom were put in pretrial detention, for attempting to defy a government ban on holding May Day demonstrations in central İstanbul has concluded with the release of eight protestors, Turkish Minute reported, citing the Birgün daily.

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.

Most of the protestors were released in the following days and weeks but around 60 of them remained in pretrial detention. Some of them were recently released after their lawyers objected their incarceration.

There are now 33 protestors left in pretrial detention.

The İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office in early June  drafted three separate indictments against more than 50 May Day demonstrators, directing multiple charges at the suspects, including violating the law on free assembly and demonstration, resisting a public officer, intentionally causing injury and vandalism. The prosecutor’s office seeks prison sentences of various lengths up to 15 years for the suspects.

The first hearing in the trial of the 12 demonstrators was held at the İstanbul 25th Penal Court of First Instance on Wednesday.

The initial hearings in the other cases will be held later this month.

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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