Harvard Square Candle Vigil Press Release

We stand in solidarity with the protestors in Turkey, who are using their rights to peaceful assembly to fight for democracy and freedom of expression. They have been subject to immense police violence. We are commemorating the lives lost, people who are disabled, injured, assaulted, ill-treated or arrested, and grieve with their family and friends.

What started on Monday, May 27, as a movement to peacefully protest the demolition of a public park and its replacement with a shopping mall and old military barracks, has turned into a mass struggle of people in Turkey for human rights, for freedom of expression, and for democracy. Throughout the past 7 weeks, millions of people have joined the movement in many cities across Turkey. The immense on-going violence practiced by the Turkish police cannot be justified in any way.

According to the report by Physicians for Human Rights, Human Rights Foundation of Turkey and the Turkish Medical Association, “the police have systematically used tear gas as a weapon on hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, firing tear gas canisters and capsules directly at protestors at close range and in closed spaces and other areas with no outlet for escape. Some 130,000 canisters have reportedly been used against protestors. The police have fired rubber bullets and live ammunition directly at protestors at close range, used water cannons spiked with tear gas and other chemicals, and beaten and illegally detained hundreds of protestors. As of July 2, 2013 The Turkish Medical Association collected medical information on more than 8000 injuriesdue to tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons, beatings and live ammunition. 61 protestors have been seriously wounded, 104 with head trauma and 11 others have lost their eyes. There have been 5 civilian deathsand 2 still in critical conditioncaused by unnecessary and/or excessive use of force against protestors and other demonstration related injuries. As of July 10, 2013, the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey had conducted approximately 200 medical evaluations of injured protestors in accordance with the Istanbul Protocol standards. The physical and psychological evidence in each case is consistent with torture and/ or ill treatment. In addition the police and other law enforcement officials have deliberately attacked clearly identifiable, independent medical personal and medical facilities with tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets. Police have beaten and illegally detained dozens of physicians and other medical personnel for providing emergency medical care to those injured by the police.” This immense violence against the people of Turkey who are using their rights to peaceful protest is unacceptable.

In addition to this direct violence, thousands of peoplesupporting the people’s movement have been detained and blacklistedfor expressing their opinions, including those who are charged for speaking out through social media. Peaceful expression of opinions is a constitutional right in Turkey, much like in any democratic country. Among those who are blacklisted and were subject to ill treatment by the law enforcement in their detention were the members of Taksim Solidarity, formed by over 100 different NGOs and professional associations, such as the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects, Turkish Medical Association, several workers’ unions, LGBTQ communities, political parties, students’ and artists’ organizations, cutting across all class, ethnicity, gender, age and sexuality lines.

The resistance movement has created an atmosphere of open exchange and plurality in Turkey –an atmosphere, against which the increasing number of human rights violations, accompanied by a culture of fear and oppression, stands in jarring contrast. We hereby reaffirm that the freedom of thought, expression, and conscience, as well as the recognition and acceptance of difference, are essential in any democratic society. It is our duty to remind the Turkish government of its obligations under international law to respect the basic rights of the people.

We also condemn the silence, inconsistency, and bias of the mainstream media in Turkey. The people of Turkey have the right to a free press and the right to fully follow these events, in which thousands of people partake. We reject Prime Minister Erdogan’s discourse that is denigrating and marginalizing the protesters. We emphasize that this is a democratic movement. Congruent with the demands of the protestors in Turkey,

  • We demand that Gezi remain a park;
  • Continuing repression and police brutality end immediately;
  • The constitutional rights of those in custody be protected and their medical needs be met;
  • Those who were taken into custody for exercising their right to peacefully and publicly protest be immediately released;
  • Those responsible for the disproportionate use of police power and those who condoned the violence be held accountable;
  • A participatory culture of democracy be established and sustained.

We wish the people who have been subjected to violence a fast recovery. We send our condolences to the families of the deceased.