Your Bans and Detentions Cannot Curb Our Quest for Truth
5 August 2023
The relatives of the disappeared, commonly known as Saturday Mothers, emerged when shadowy organizations and formations within the state, whose existence was unacknowledged for a long time due to the denial of the Kurdish issue and political preferences insisting on security policies, detained people with dissident and political identities from their homes, in the presence of their relatives, and afterwards they were never heard from again. It is a human rights struggle that started with a peaceful vigil in front of the Galatasaray High School on 27 May 1995 by the families of the disappeared, demanding Justice and Truth for the disappeared, which has been going on for over 958 weeks and more than 28 years since then.
The peaceful Saturday sit-ins, which have been going on for a long time with the legitimate demand “Find the Disappeared and Put the Perpetrators on Trial,” have received support from all social groups and this legitimate demand has become the demand of everyone. Simultaneously with this general acceptance, the then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan promised in 2011 to a delegation of Saturday Mothers, including Mother Berfo, the mother of Cemil Kırbayır, who was subjected to enforced disappearance during the 1980 military coup, that he would “solve this problem, find the disappeared and ensure that their perpetrators are brought before courts.” In the meantime, Mother Berfo died in 2013 before she could embrace the bones of her son Cemil, and the cases of the disappeared began to be dismissed one by one on the grounds of statute of limitations.
On 25 August 2018, Beyoğlu District Governor’s Office in İstanbul banned the 700th– week sit-in of the relatives of the disappeared upon the instruction of Süleyman Soylu, Minister of Interior at the time. As a result of the lawsuits filed by the relatives of the disappeared and their lawyers, the Constitutional Court ruled that “the right to organize assemblies and demonstrations enshrined in Article 34 of the Constitution was violated” and sentenced the district governor’s office to pay compensation. With this decision, the relatives of the disappeared wanted to continue their sit-ins in front of Galatasaray High School and since the 940th week, the law enforcement continued to take them into custody violating their rights by reverse handcuffing, police brutality, holding them in extremely hot detention vehicles for a long time for 18 weeks. For 28 years, the Human Rights Association’s “Commission against Disappearances in Custody” has supported and maintained the quest for truth and justice, which has been prevented by bans and detentions, while the association’s executive committee has decided to release statements of support and solidarity every Saturday at the same time in all cities where its branches are located as long as the bans and detentions continue.
In the 956th and 957th weeks, law enforcement continued to detain İHD’s local Dersim branch executives and members as well as the relatives of the disappeared who wanted to assemble in front of Galatasaray High School. Before the 958th week, Adana and Van Governors’ Offices decided to ban demonstrations and events on Saturday 5 August 2023. In emulation of the Beyoğlu District Governor’s Office, which does not recognize the decision of the Constitutional Court, Adana and Van Governors’ Offices have also decided to ban demonstrations and protests throughout their cities, violating the basic rule of law and the Constitution: “Freedoms are the main rule and prohibitions are the exception.” The Minister of Interior has changed, but the repressive mentality has remained unchanged. We expect the Van and Adana Governors’ Offices to explain to the public what security and intelligence information they used to make such decisions, except for the solidarity statement with the Relatives of the Disappeared in Custody, which local İHD branches had previously announced to the public.
Since 4 June 2023, when the new ministers were appointed after the 14 May general elections, İHD headquarters filed two written applications with Mr. Ali Yerlikaya, the Minister of Interior, requesting a meeting with him about the detentions and human rights environment, but we have not received a response.
On 5 August 2023, following the banning orders issued by Beyoğlu District Governor’s Office, Adana and Van Governors’ Offices, the statement that İHD’s local Van branch wanted to make in Van could only be made at the entrance of the branch building due to the blockade of the building by the police and special operations teams since the morning hours, while the press and citizens were not allowed to follow the press statement.
In Adana, a press statement by İHD branch members and executives was intervened and 18 people, including branch co-chairs, members of the executive board and the former president of Adana Bar Association, were dragged on the ground, beaten and taken in custody under torture.
According to our preliminary findings, 27 people, including Eren Keskin, the chairperson of İHD, were taken into custody today. We demand the immediate release of our friends in custody and an immediate statement about their health and security situation.
We remind all authorities once again:
You cannot prevent the rightful and legitimate demand of the Saturday Mothers to find their relatives disappeared by state forces for more than 28 years and to prosecute their perpetrators by banning them unjustly. Fulfill the promise made to the relatives of the disappeared by the then Prime Minister and now the President and explain to the public what measures and actions you have taken regarding enforced disappearances since 2011 when this promise was made.
Immediately take necessary action against the governors, district governors and police chiefs who have banned and prevented them through detention the right of the Saturday Mothers to peacefully assemble, protest and make a press statement, which is their most fundamental right as recognized by the Constitutional Court.
On the centennial of the founding of the Republic, share the cases of enforced disappearances in the state archives with the public, and take measures to ensure that enforced disappearances will never happen again by establishing Truth, Justice, Dealing with the Past and Restorative Justice Mechanisms.
Become a party to the United Nations “International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance” without delay and introduce legislation to define enforced disappearance in custody as a crime against humanity and exempt it from the statute of limitations in the Turkish Criminal Code. The disappearance of one person in detention exposes all citizens living in the country to the same danger.
We announce to the public that we stand by the just and legitimate demands of the Saturday Mothers and that our quest for Truth and Justice will continue until the disappeared are found and their perpetrators are brought before justice.
Human Rights Association