Imagine having lost your child. Every parent’s worst nightmare. Now imagine that you would have to travel every month or so to a courthouse far away from your hometown in the hope of finding justice for your child. This nightmare scenario is what Abdullah Cömert’s family are going through at the moment.
Let’s have a look at a map of Turkey. Hatay, where Abdullah Cömert’s family lives, is located in the South. More than 1000 kilometers away, in the West, is Balikesir, the place where the trial into the killing of Abdullah Cömert takes place. The initial trial was started in Hatay, but later transferred to Balıkesir for security reasons, which is a common practice in Turkey regarding the cases concerning violence caused by security forces. This is the distance that the family members of Abdullah have to travel to look the suspected murderer of their child into his eyes. Except the defendant is not present. The police officer who faces up to 25 years in prison for intentionally killing Abdullah is not arrested yet and is allowed to appear before court through a video conference system in Mersin where he is posted.
On 9 October the sixth hearing in the case of Abdullah Cömert took place and I was present with Deniz Yıldız from Amnesty Turkey to observe the trial for Amnesty International. More than two years ago Abdullah took part in the nationwide Gezi Park protests and he was killed when a tear gas canister fired by a police armoured vehicle hit his head. At the hearing, lawyers for the family of Abdullah Cömert showed video footage to prove that the police defendant was the one who fired the canister at Abdullah and that he did so intentionally. On the video the armoured vehicle was seen entering a narrow street. According to the lawyers this shows that the intention was not to disperse the demonstration, but to specifically target the demonstrators.
One of the lawyers of the police defendant argued that the demonstration was illegal. This shows a worryingly lack of understanding of the right to freedom of assembly. According to international law, not only do demonstrators have the right to peacefully assemble, the state should also actively protect peaceful assemblies. Even when certain individuals use violence during the demonstration do others still have the right to exercise their freedom of assembly. Furthermore, it is difficult to see how the argument that the demonstration was illegal is going to help the defendant as use of force should only be used as a last resort and everyone’s right to life should be protected.
It is a sad fact that Abdullah was killed for exercising his democratic right to protest. Unfortunately the judges have not seen enough evidence to come to a verdict yet and have asked for further proof. The next hearing will take place on November 20th.
Let’s hope that this trial will end soon and that Abdullah’s family can find some peace knowing that justice was done.
Andrea de Ruijter, Amnesty – Netherlands