Amnesty International has released a report condemning "mass human rights violations" by Turkish authorities over the handling of the Gezi Park protest movement.
The report, released on Wednesday and entitled Gezi Park protests: Brutal denial of the right to peaceful assembly in Turkey, is a damning indictment of officially-sanctioned police brutality, including beatings, sexual assaults and the firing of live ammunition against peaceful protesters.
Back in May, plans by the Turkish government to build a replica of an Ottoman-style barracks and a mall in the only green space left in the city, Gezi Park, triggered weeks of angry protests on the streets of Turkey. Local residents opposed to the move joined forces with Turkish opposition activists, who saw the move as another alarming manifestation of the "authoritarian" tendencies of Turkish Prime Minister Recept Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist AKP party.
Police quickly moved in and violently suppressed the protest movement, provoking a violent backlash from some protesters.
The plan has since been scrapped, and protests largely died down after the government reportedly compromised on protesters’ demands.
But resentment against AKP policies is still simmering, particularly among Turkey's secular population. Last month an anti-government protester died after allegedly being struck in the head by a teargas canister fired by police.
Also last month, a soccer match between the Besiktas and Galatasaray clubs was abandoned after political demonstrations by fans escalated into a full-scale pitch-invasion.
According to the 70-page Amnesty report, Turkish police regularly used teargas canisters as a weapon against peaceful protesters. It cited eyewitness reports of at least one other death - that of Abdullah Cömert - who was mortally wounded after being struck in the head "by a tear gas canister fired at close range by a police officer in Antakya on 3 June." Cömert died of his injuries on the next day.
Other abuses cited in the report include: firing plastic bullets at the heads and upper bodies of protesters; sexual abuse of female detainees; adding chemical substances to water cannons, causing burning sensations and rashes on those affected; the use of live ammunition, resulting in the death of at least one protester; severe beatings of demonstrators and others, resulting in at least one death.
In response to these and other human rights abuses, Amnesty has called on "governments and suppliers of riot control equipment to impose an immediate export or transfer ban on Turkey."
“The determination of the Turkish authorities to end the Gezi Park protests – and discourage their recurrence is clear. Their tactics of choice have been force, threats, insults and prosecution,” said Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s expert on Turkey.
“Hundreds of people are facing prosecution solely for their participation in the demonstrations without evidence that they themselves participated in any violent act.”
“The Turkish government must learn to tolerate the dissenting opinions expressed through street protests and ensure that police are equipped, trained and instructed to police them lawfully.”
More than 8,000 protesters were injured and at least 3 killed by police violence during the height of the protests, according to the report. It also dismisses Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's long-awaited “democratization package,” issued on Monday, as "failing to address these violations or to take any serious steps to ensure that they will not occur in the future."
Opposition groups have already expressed their disappointment with the package, claiming it completely ignores the rights of the country's minorities - in particular the Alevi and Kurdish communities.
The Turkish government has lashed out at those behind the protests, claiming they are part of a "foreign conspiracy" led by Israel.