Turkey: Detention of protesting construction workers an attempt to stifle legitimate protest

The order by an Istanbul court to remand 24 construction workers and union leaders in prison pending trial is a blatant attempt by the authorities to silence legitimate protest, Amnesty International said today.

The workers and union leaders were amongst the hundreds of others who had been detained in police custody since 15 September following protests in Istanbul about working conditions at the construction site of a new airport due to open in the city next month. Clashes ensued after the police intervened to end the protest.

Rather than stifle legitimate peaceful protest with water cannons, tear gas and detentions, the Turkish authorities must listen to the complaints of the workers and ensure they have a safe and dignified place of work
Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International

“Rather than stifle legitimate peaceful protest with water cannons, tear gas and detentions, the Turkish authorities must listen to the complaints of the workers and ensure they have a safe and dignified place of work,” said Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s Turkey Expert.

Workers complained of inhumane working and living conditions at the site and lack of workplace safety as well as delays or omissions in receiving their salaries and social security payments.

In February 2018, the then Minister of Labour and Social Security said that 27 workers had died since the construction began in May 2015, including due to health problems and traffic accidents around the site. However, workers and trade unions say that the number is much higher.

People have the right to safety at work, to organise and to peacefully protest
Andrew Gardner

The workers and union leaders detained in prison custody are accused of preventing public servants from carrying out their work, forcing or threatening others to stop or suspend work, damaging public property and participating in the protest with weapons. However no evidence to substantiate these charges was presented at the court hearing.

“People have the right to safety at work, to organise and to peacefully protest,” said Andrew Gardner. The misuse of the criminal justice system and intimidation of these workers not only violates their human rights, it also  only serves to heighten tensions.”

Background:

Thousands of gendarmerie and police officers intervened to break up a protest by construction workers in Istanbul on 14 September. They used tear gas and water cannons against the protestors and more than 500 workers were detained by police. The majority of those detained were picked up after midnight on 15 September during a police raid on their dormitories while they were sleeping.

The Istanbul Bar Association and Human Rights Foundation of Turkey said that lawyers were not allowed access to the detained workers and many had their statements taken by the gendarmerie officers without legal representation, in violation of Turkish law.

Forty-three of the detainees including four members of the construction workers trade union (Insaat-Sen) were brought to Istanbul’s Gaziosmanpasa Court House on 18 September in the afternoon. The prosecution asked the court to remand 28 in prison custody and to conditionally release 15 workers while the investigation against them continues.

Several solidarity protests were organized in Istanbul and Ankara in the evening of 15 September. More than 30 people were detained during these protests, including at least one reporter covering a protest organized in Kadıköy, Istanbul. There were allegations that the police used excessive force against protesters in Kadıköy and mistreated those detained.