TURKEY

Teenage protesters in Turkey recount police violence

This protester’s arm was broken during a police arrest.
This protester’s arm was broken during a police arrest.

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A group of about 50 high school students in Istanbul tried to hold a protest against the government on June 8. However, they didn’t have a permit and the police were quick to descend on them. Officers beat some of the students and then detained them for several hours. Footage of this police violence against young people has stirred an outcry in Turkey. FRANCE 24 spoke to one of the students who were detained.

Since the attempted coup d’état on July 15, 2016, Turkish authorities have been clamping down on protests and carrying out a series of purges. More than 78,000 people have been arrested, including 319 journalists, according to the website Turkey Purge, which has been keeping a running tally on purge victims.

The political situation is growing ever more tense as the June 24 presidential election approaches. It’s in this climate that a group of high school students decided to protest against the government and what they see as its unfair educational policy.

"We didn’t expect this level of violence"

Mert Eryiğit is a 15-year-old high school student who lives in Istanbul. Eryiğit is a member of the Marxist-Leninist Dev Lis organisation, which was one of the organisers of this small protest in the Kadiköy neighbourhood in Istanbul.

 

We joined forces with several other Marxist-Leninist and anarchist groups to organise the protest against the government. We planned it for the day that we’d be getting our grades. Our aim was to shine a light on injustice within the educational system and to show that young Turkish people are suffering.

"We are demanding free and egalitarian education rooted in science and taught in our native language", another protester, Çağdaş Onur Ekinci, told FRANCE 24. This video was filmed during the protest on Bahariye Avenue, in front of the Sürreyya opera house.

Our aim was to march peacefully across Kadiköy district, but the police officers stopped us. They grew violent when we told them that we were going to keep marching. They attacked us in the street and arrested 21 of us, as well as a journalist. We were pushed into a van, where we’d remain for the next seven hours. During that time, the violence just got worse.

"I would say that we were victims of torture”

"I was hit in the face several times and the police wouldn’t let my friends help me. They said, “We are going to take you to the hospital, but electrocute you [with a Taser] the entire way there,”” said Ekinci. This video published by the protesters’ lawyers shows the young people being beaten with truncheons.

I was beaten with their truncheon and was given electroshocks [with Tasers].

They insulted us, even going so far as to insult our mothers. They hurled racist insults at the members of our group who are from the Alevi [Editor’s note: a Muslim minority group] and Kurdish minority groups. They also tried to strip search an underage high school girl, but we managed to stop them doing it.

One of the protesters left the hospital with his arm in a cast.

Then, they brought us to the hospital, as they are required to do. The doctors there treated one of our classmates who had a broken arm and another who had three fractures on his skull.

I had bruises all over my back. Many of us fainted and woke up covered in blood.

Witnesses filmed the arrival of the protesters at the hospital.

The shirt that our Mert Eryiğit was wearing at the protest was stained with blood.

 

"The police accused us of belonging to a terrorist organisation”

Then, we were detained at the police station and interrogated. They asked us who had “made us” organise this protest. We told them that we had organised the march ourselves. But they didn’t believe us and accused us of being part of a terrorist organisation.

They told us that we’d never change the system and that we should give up. They threatened us and told us that if we kept protesting, we’d end up in prison. They ended up detaining us for another hour before finally letting us go that evening.

This photo shows the young protesters leaving the police station. The lawyer defending the students posted this photo on Twitter.

When we organised this protest, we knew that the police weren’t going to be nice about it, but we didn’t expect this level of violence. We took this risk because we want to be heard.

I think that if the police were hard on us – even though they probably have children who are our age – then that probably means that they are afraid of us. Because we aren’t afraid to criticise them.

 

In support of the teenage protesters, Turks shared the hashtag #KadıköydeİşkenceVar ["there’s torture in Kadiköy"] more than 170,000 times.

Human rights organisation Amnesty International demanded that Turkish authorities carry out a rapid, impartial, independent and efficient investigation into these allegations of torture and prosecute the implicated officers. On June 12, however, it was the arrested students who had to go to court on charges of breaking the law on public gatherings and protests.