A guest blog from our colleague at Amnesty International – Netherlands on the most recent hearing in the Taksim Solidarity case:
It was like an ironic cartoon. We were some forty people brushing up against each other in the doorframe of the small courtroom, trying to peek inside as we were barred from going in by a red line and two nervous guards. The only ones allowed entering were lawyers in their shiny robes. The whole scene resembled a puppet show of a twisted sort. We could see the judge, the prosecutor, the defendants and the lawyers. All actors were playing out their roles, but we couldn’t understand a thing. The Turkish judicial system in a nutshell.
The second hearing of the Taksim Solidarity trial took place at the Çağlayan Palace of Justice in Istanbul on 21 October. In the case, five defendants stand accused of founding a criminal organisation, and of having called the other 21 defendants to an unauthorized demonstration on 8 July 2013 – the day Gezi Park was reopened to the public. All are accused of having refused to disperse from an unlawful protest. They face up to 15 years in prison. All but one of the defendants are members of Taksim Solidarity, a platform of some 100 mostly professional organisations that has been actively opposing the building plans for Gezi since 2012. Amnesty International considers the case a show trial, a politically motivated case aimed to quell dissent.
The first hearing on 12 June lasted for hours as 19 of the defendants took the opportunity to give lengthy statements without being subjected to tear gas or water cannons. Some of the top lawyers attached to the case brilliantly lectured the judge and the prosecutor on fundamental rights, the Turkish constitution and European jurisprudence on freedom of association and the right to peaceful protest. In comparison, the second hearing wasn’t quite as spectacular and took just over 1,5 hours. One more defendant gave his statement, followed by procedural matters. All the while, mics were switched off.
What could we do? Turn to Twitter, of course! That same morning in parliament, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu outlined the contours of a new ‘domestic security package’. The bill looks set to, inter alia, dramatically expand police power, restrict lawyers’ access to evidence and create a new criminal offence of ‘making threats’ to public officials. At the same time at an international Ombudsman symposium, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan referred to Gezi victim Berkin Elvan as a terrorist.
After the hearing, my colleague Ruhat Sena Aksener (Amnesty TR) and I resorted to the minutes to find out what had happened. Earlier that morning as we were queuing in front of the courtroom, Ruhat had told me she plans to study law. ‘I’m sick and tired of this game. Once I am a lawyer at least I can always go in!’ The minutes revealed little of consequence. A lawyer who acted as observer on behalf of the Istanbul Bar was ordered to leave the defendants’ seating area. Some defendants still need to deliver their statements. The judge promised to arrange a more convenient room for the next hearing, on 20 January 2015.
The next day, I met up with Cansu Yapıcı (26). She is one of the defendants and a member of the Chamber of Architects – like her mother, Mücella Yapıcı, one of the figureheads of Taksim Solidarity. ‘I am proud to be part of the case’, Yapıcı said. ‘But it is also embarrassing. People are dying in Turkey and we are in this ridiculous trial.’ Although it’s hard to deal with the uncertainty of the trial, Yapıcı said the case in itself does not trouble her too much on a daily basis. The implications of the trial and current developments in Turkey, however, do. For starters, it’s hard to imagine a future as an architect or urban planner. ‘As architects, we are not building anything. We are just trying to prevent destruction’, she said, referring to the many urban renewal plans that will negatively affect liveability and existing green spaces in Istanbul. Professionals like her become activists out of necessity. ‘The situation in Turkey is depressing and you can’t escape it anywhere.’ Yapıcı needs a break. ‘When the trial is over and I’m not put in prison, I want to leave Istanbul for a while. Get some breathing space.’ There are some perks to being on trial. Yapıcı has been invited as a speaker to an activists’ meeting in Washington. ‘I booked my return flight from New York’, she said with a smile.
Marjanne de Haan
Landenmedewerker Turkije / Country specialist Turkey