Copenhagen, 29 April 2014
MAY DAY: THREATS TO THE RIGHT OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY IN TURKEY
The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) is extremely concerned that the announcement of the Turkish Prime Minister on 20 April banning demonstrations in Taksim Square and the Kadıköy district in Istanbul might set the scene for fresh clashes.
May Day (1st of May) is traditionally a day of demonstrations all over the world, including Turkey. According to international human rights conventions to which Turkey is party, such as the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the state should protect and facilitate the right to peacefully assemble, including by allowing the public to express dissent and criticism of public policies. Similarly, Turkish legislation guarantees freedom of assembly which is upheld in the Constitution stipulating that: “Everyone has the right to hold unarmed and peaceful meetings and demonstration marches without prior permission” (article 34).
EMHRN considers the Turkish authorities’ decision to ban demonstrations in Taksim Square is unjustified. The Turkish authorities should carefully seek the balance between public order and business interests (as Taksim and Kadıköy are commercial areas) on the one hand, and the protection of the fundamental right to freedom of expression and assembly on the other hand.
As the European Court of Human Rights has ruled in several judgments, regulations on assemblies may not impose excessive demands or limitations that invalidate the practical exercise of this freedom. In consequence, authorities can set restrictions on time, space or manner if judged necessary, but they must be cautiously set and a certain degree of tolerance must be shown.
In a similar case when the Turkish authorities banned May Day marches in 2008 and police intervened to block the area even before the demonstration started, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that there had been a violation of the right to freedom of assembly, and that “although a demonstration in a public place may cause some disruption to ordinary life, including disruption of traffic, it is important for the public authorities to show a certain degree of tolerance towards peaceful gatherings if the freedom of assembly guaranteed by Article 11 of the Convention is not to be deprived of its substance”.
Taksim Square is an area that has a high symbolic value for labour movements to march on May Day. The ban on marches has thus a high impact on social and labour movements and risks raising tensions in an already tense political context. Judging by past experience, banning May Day marches leads to violent confrontations between demonstrators and the police. In contrast, when marches were permitted between 2009 and 2012, demonstrations were peaceful and orderly.
EMHRN thus calls upon the Turkish authorities to lift the blanket ban on marches in Taksim and Kadıköy and to facilitate the peaceful development of demonstrations on May Day.
Samer Ibrahim Abu Rass
Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network
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