A public announcement was made in Istanbul, Turkey, on Wednesday to protest against a judiciary attempt to criminalise the families of individuals who have been forcibly disappeared in past decades by Turkish state officials.
A number of people were detained on 25 August 2018 during the 200th Saturday sit-in protest by the families of the missing in Istanbul’s Galatasaray Square. Forty six family members have been indicted on the charge of ‘violating the regulation for mass demonstrations.’
The sit-in protests have been organised by the Saturday Mothers, a group consisting of relatives of state victims, since 1995.
During the public announcement, Miguel Martin, the head of the European Office of the Switzerland-based World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) expressed his support for the Saturday Mothers.
“I’m here, in solidarity with the 46 people who are unfairly being prosecuted for just defending human rights,” he said, adding that he renounced the judicial practices that provided “complete impunity for human rights violations” in Turkey.
Maside Ocak, the sister of Hasan Ocak, who had been disappeared on 21 March 1995 and whose disappearance inspired the first sit-in protest in May 1995, read the Saturday Mother’s statement about the indictment of 46 people.
“Who’s going to face the court today? Are the politicians who made the practice of disappearance in custody a state policy, and the perpetrators of crimes against humanity who are walking around disguised as public servants finally to face justice?,” she asked.
She continued: “Are those who targeted the peaceful gatherings of the Saturday Mothers with violence, who tortured people for exercising their constitutional rights, who blocked a square at the centre of the city to the people. (…) Are they the ones who are on trial? No, certainly not. So, who’s facing court today? Today, the missing peoples’ relatives who say that they will not surrender, even if they’re indicted in a hundred cases, the defenders of civil rights are facing court.”
The Saturday Mothers had started their sit-in protest in Galatasaray Square on 27 May 1995. After facing violent police attacks almost every week, they had been forced to halt their protests on 13 March 1999, only to resume them on 31 January 2009.
The group that had started with about 30 people currently has thousands of participants, as during the 1990s, 1,297 cases of disappearance and extrajudicial executions were reported in the Kurdish-majority provinces of Turkey, according to a report by Sezgin Tanrıkulu, MP for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). The total number of cases since the military coup in 1980 is much higher.