« Turkey’s Gezi Trial, where prominent civil society figures face prison time for their involvement in massive street protests from 2013, will conclude in a hearing on Monday » reports Ahval News.
The upcoming hearing will be the third time the Gezi Protests, named after the urban park in central Istanbul they started in, are put on trial.
“I am thinking of applying to the Guinness World Records,” architect and activist Mücella Yapıcı told daily Evrensel in an interview published on Sunday.
“If this was an absurd scenario, the film would not see the light of day. Maybe if there were aliens… That’s the only thing missing. We are on trial, that’s the long and short of it, facing life in prison with no parole,” Yapıcı said, citing jumps in logic in the indictment.
Yapıcı and several other activists first faced trial in 2015, over a protest in July 2013.
“The governor had come to the park, and we wanted to go as well. We were detained, and then a lawsuit followed. We were charged with founding an illegal organisation,” said Yapıcı, who was the Environmental Impact Advisory Council Secretary for the Chamber of Architects at the time.
The architect is facing a life sentence with no chance of parole for attempting to overthrow the government via violent means, as is philanthropist and businessman Osman Kavala, who has been behind bars since 2017.
Remaining suspects Can Atalay, Tayfun Kahraman, Mine Özerden, Çiğdem Mater Utku, Ali Hakan Altınay and Yiğit Ali Ekmekçi are facing up to 20 years in prison for their involvement with the protests and the group that formed as part of coordination efforts, the Taksim Solidarity.
“Taksim Solidarity was called a criminal organisation and we were deemed its leaders. In the trial, my friends and I were acquitted,” Yapıcı said.
The first verdict included the phrase, “It has been understood that (the suspects) have not engaged in any intervention that included violence towards a public official or member of the public.”
Eight people died in three provinces during the weeks-long protests where several hundred thousand people occupied the namesake Gezi Park. Between June and September 2013, some 4.5 million people in 80 out of Turkey’s 81 provinces took to the streets to protest the government.
“The trials for our children killed by police brutality started in 2016. Some ended in sentences that could be considered boons. Just then, an informant emerged,” Yapıcı said.
A man named Murat Pabuç went to the police and said he knew details on how the Gezi Park Protests had been organised, three years after the fact.
“Kavala was under arrest over another case then. He was included in the Gezi Trial based on Pabuç’s testimony, as did other friends from the Open Society Foundation,” Yapıcı continued.
Yapıcı, Kavala and Chamber of Architects’ lawyer Can Atalay were accused of having financed the protests, “while I still lived in a rental”, Yapıcı said. “There was no evidence against Kavala or us. So we were acquitted again on February 18, 2020.”
The acquittal was overturned by the higher court. “And so round three started…”
The ‘violent means’ cited in ‘attempting to overthrow the government via violent means’ was a construction machine that Gezi protesters had confiscated during one of the protests, Yapıcı said. The football fan group Çarşı was added to the mix as the members of the organisation that Yapıcı and Kavala were allegedly running, she added.
“They need to say something to Europe. The Council of Europe (CoE) already started infringement procedures over Kavala,” Yapıcı said.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has issued several rulings for the immediate release of Osman Kavala, finding the charges against him baseless and politically motivated.
Turkey is facing infringement proceedings over its courts refusing to release Kavala, and could eventually be expelled from the CoE. Ankara maintains that there is no non-compliance with ECHR rulings, and that the philanthropist is under arrest on unrelated charges.
Kavala’s attorneys believe the Turkish government to be using trumped-up espionage charges as a legal argument to keep him behind bars.
“I feel ashamed,” Yapıcı said. “We can be replaced, evetything can be fixed, but if there is no law in a country, if everything comes down to one word from politicians’ lips, if (Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu) can say those who want Osman Kavala released are responsible for the deaths of Ukrainian, Syrian children… I don’t know how to fix that.”
Yapıcı spoke of what she calls the absurdity of the indictment:
“I never met Kavala during Gezi. But apparently he gave me orders. How? This is important: I spoke on the phone with Mine Özerden five times. The orders were supposedly given then. So we riled up millions of people all over Turkey, no guns and no violence, just Kavala and I. Without ever meeting. Over the phone with Mine. What’s more, when I spoke with Can Atalay, the chamber’s lawyer, and Tayfun Kahraman, then-chairman of the Chamber of City Planners, they became my aides. And when Gezi failed, we attempted July 15, apparently.”
The indictment accuses all suspects of involvement with the failed coup attempt in July 2016.
Members of professional organisations have a duty to the public, Yapıcı said. “We must warn administrations when they do something wrong, and take the matter to court if they do not heed our warnings. We have the guide of science in our hands. We swore oaths to do what our professional ethics require of us.”
“We objected, and were met with terrifying violence. Eight of our sons died, 45 people lost their eyes, hundreds were injured. Cats, dogs, birds died. Yes, we are Taksim Solidarity, we were at Gezi Park. We defended everything there, and we will continue,” Yapıcı said.
The significance of Gezi Protests was in communities realising the importance of collective objection, according to the architect.
“The government is afraid that the people will fight for their rights amid such global economic strife. They should know that history is full of proof that hope never dies,” she added. “I am here. I stand. It seems I will face further trial, may it be that way. Gezi is the proudest moment of my life. I am glad I lived through it.”
“I trust in the future. I trust the youth,” Yapıcı said.
Ahval News, March 20, 2022, Photo/Umit Bektas/Reuters