Activists throughout Turkey took to the streets on Tuesday to protest against lengthy prison sentences issued to prominent civil society figures over the massive anti-government protests of 2013, when a small demonstration against the demolition one of the last public green spaces in Istanbul city centre, Gezi Park, spread rapidly to include more than four million people nationwide.
“Gezi cannot be convicted,” chanted protesters at the largest gathering, which took place in Istanbul, reported the trade unions news website Sendika.org.
Businessman and human rights defender Osman Kavala received a life sentence on charges of attempting to overthrow the government, while the court doled out 18-year sentences of imprisonment to seven other defendants. Among those convicted are current and former officials of Turkey’s top professional organisations, including the chambers of architects and city planners, journalists, and former employees of Kavala’s Open Society Foundation.
Monday’s ruling marked the third time the protests have been the subject of trial, and community leaders charged with plotting a coup. Kavala and other defendants had already been acquitted of the same charges in previous versions of the court case in 2020.
Coup plotters were not among participants of the protests, Ali Çerkezoğlu, former vice president of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB), said, speaking at the central protest in Istanbul. “Look for putschists on your own side, search for them among your own people,” he said, addressing the government.
The police detained more than 50 people when the crowd tried to continue the protest after the reading of the press statements. Several groups had brief confrontations with the police as they pushed against barricades, demanding the release of Gezi defendants who had already been sent to prison.
Demonstrations took place in almost 20 provinces, including the capital Ankara, the industrial hub Bursa, the agricultural centre Adana, and several Kurdish-majority cities.
Esin Köymen, chairwoman of the Istanbul Chamber of Architects, told reporters on the day of the penultimate hearing last week, 22 April, that the protests had been “a democratic, peaceful, creative, participatory, inclusive and massive movement in the history of this country, manifest in writings on walls”, alluding to the witty graffiti that came to symbolise the protests at the time.
“The Gezi protests are a peaceful and legitimate reaction to deadly police violence, echoing everywhere. It has been nine years, the Gezi resistance still has clarity, still has legitimacy,” Köymen said.