Turkish trade unionists once again banned from Istanbul central square

Trade unionists in Turkey have once again been refused permission to hold a demonstration on May Day in the central Taksim Square in Istanbul. Over 500 people were arrested for demonstrating without authorization on 1 May 2008.

On the day of planned May Day demonstrations in many Turkish cities, Amnesty International has once again called upon the Turkish authorities to ensure that the right to freedom of peaceful assembly is respected. The organization is urging the government to ensure that law enforcement officers should use force only where strictly necessary and only to the extent required to perform their duties.

In addition, Amnesty International is urging that all law enforcement officials policing the demonstration should be issued with identification badges, to ensure accountability for their actions.

Police have used water cannons, batons and tear gas to disperse unauthorized demonstrations in Taksim Square, Istanbul, two years running. No law enforcement official has been prosecuted for excessive use of force at these demonstrations. Following clashes between police and demonstrators in 2007, 38 people lodged a criminal complaint alleging that they had been injured by police at the demonstration.

However, on 12 March 2008, the Chief Prosecutor ruled that the force was legal because the demonstration was not authorized by the authorities. This decision contravenes the requirement that force used by law enforcement be proportionate whether or not an assembly has been authorized.

“The right to hold peaceful demonstrations is protected by the right of peaceful assembly in international human rights legislation,” said Nicola Duckworth from Amnesty International. “Any limitations placed on this right must only be those which are prescribed by law and necessary in a democratic society for the protection of national security or public order or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

1 May was reinstated as a public holiday in Turkey this year for the first time since 1981, when it was stopped following the military coup a year earlier. Taksim Square has been forbidden as a gathering place for workers.

Trade union groups in Turkey have said that they will demonstrate this year despite the ban.