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Turks question police use of force during protests

Staff Reporter 7/03/2013 | |
People carry the coffin of Ethem Sarisuluk in Ankara, 16 June
Hundreds attended the funeral of Ethem Sarisuluk, shot dead by police
The role of Turkey's security forces is being scrutinised again after their handling of the mass anti-government unrest which focused on Istanbul.
"Our police have successfully fulfilled their duties within the confines of the law," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the graduating class of the police academy on 26 June.
"They have passed a very important test of democracy. They have written a heroic saga."
The prime minister's most loyal supporters will agree but Turkish human rights activists argue that the unrest of recent weeks tells a different story.
The Turkish Doctors' Association says that four people were killed and more than 8,000 people injured.
Shot in the head
Lawyers are still trying to compile definitive figures of those detained. They accuse the interior ministry of not providing accurate information. But campaigners believe that they have gathered enough evidence in a number of cases to begin investigating potential abuses of power.
On 1 June, Ethem Sarisuluk, 27, was shot in the head in Ankara during an anti-government demonstration. He died of his injuries two weeks later.
A forensic report revealed he had been shot by a 9mm bullet, a type used by the Turkish police. Ahmet Sahbaz was identified as the officer who fired the shot. A court took Mr Sahbaz's statement and ordered his release pending continuation of the case.
"We don't hold out much hope of getting justice," says Kazim Bayraktar, the lawyer for Ethem Sarisuluk's family.
"The prosecutor will write the case based on a belief that the police acted in self-defence. In his statement, the officer said: 'I thought I was going to be killed, I didn't directly shoot at him.' But when you look at the footage, you see this is not true."
"The court is putting on a show," Mr Bayraktar adds. "We don't expect anything from our national laws. We are already getting prepared to go to the European Court of Human Rights."
'Crouch and cough'
Others are preparing to do the same. One 26-year-old female student, who asked us not to disclose her name, was caught in the first police raid on Istanbul's Gezi Park on 31 May.
"I was there with my cousin," she says.
A Turkish riot policeman uses tear gas on protesters in Taksim Square, 28 MayPolice made heavy use of tear gas during the protests
"We weren't doing anything. We didn't even demonstrate. The police came into the park and tried to take an older woman who was standing next to us. We asked the police what they were doing.
"They took me and my cousin as well. They put us into a bus and made us wait there for 18 hours. Tear gas from the clashes in the park leaked into the bus."
The student was then driven to a police station. An officer took down her statement in the presence of her lawyer and was told that she would be released. Her lawyer then left.
At this point, officers appeared to change their mind. They held the student overnight along with with six or seven other women. A female police officer came and took away the woman's belongings.
"She took me to a dirty, dark, filthy room," the student said.
"She asked me to take off my top and then my underwear. I did so. She asked me to crouch and cough. I did what she asked. This went on for five minutes. I'd never been in custody before, so I had no idea that I could have refused to do what she ordered."
The student added that each of the other female detainees was made to strip. They have now filed a complaint for sexual harassment and abuse of authority, which they will take first to the Turkish authorities, and then to the European Court of Human Rights.
"I am hopeful that we will win the case," says Ozlem Durucan, the lawyer who represents three of the women, "These girls are all young, they'd never been through anything like this before."
In the aftermath of the eviction of Gezi Park on 16 June, the police made many arrests - exactly how many is not yet clear.
A protester is pinned down by plainclothes police in Taksim Square, Istanbul, 29 JuneHundreds of protesters have been arrested
The organisation Human Rights Watch says that it has documented what it calls a huge wave of arbitrary detentions and police attacks on people who were in a hospital and in makeshift health clinics.
One human rights lawyer in Istanbul has told the BBC that more than 900 people in the country were taken into custody.
Many were released after a few hours. Others were accused of a range of crimes including organising violent protest, damaging public property, disobeying the police and calling on people to attend illegal demonstrations. Those charged with these crimes have been released on bail pending trial.
"There were not enough prosecutors, so people had to wait long hours before they could give their statements," said Filiz Kerestecioglu, a lawyer.
"They were kept in buses for long hours. Police reinforcements were sent from other cities to Istanbul. But not enough prosecutors were brought in. People were detained because of the illegal acts of the police, who kept the detainees longer than permitted."
A number of people are still being held on more serious charges. One lawyer says that 32 people in Istanbul have been charged with "membership of an illegal organisation" or "aiding and abetting an illegal organisation". The identity of these organisations has not been disclosed.
The Turkish government makes no apology for its actions against protesters.
"They [the police] will use all the authority given to them," Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc told Turkish media.


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