A new indictment arising from the anti-government protests of last summer — commonly known as the Gezi Park protests — accuses 35 protestors, including leaders of a football fan club, of working to ‘overthrow the government’.
The indictment seeks aggravated life sentences for the protestors. It also accuses the protestors of “being members of an armed group,” “resisting public officials,” “staging demonstrations in violation of the law” and “possessing unlicensed weapons.”
Some of the protestors were arrested in June of last year but later released upon appeal pending trial.
Among the protestors are leaders of the well-known Beşiktaş fan group, Çarşı. The Çarşı group was a formidable force throughout the protests.
The Gezi Park protests in İstanbul began peacefully in May of last year against a government plan to replace a park in the central Taksim Square with a replica of an Ottoman-era military barracks. In response to a heavy-handed police crackdown the protests erupted into violent clashes with police and spread across the country. The demonstrations brought together large groups of protesters who accused then-Prime Minister and now President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of growing authoritarian tendencies over his 10 years in power and attempts to impose his conservative religious values on a country governed by secular laws.
During the Gezi Park demonstrations, 12 people were killed. In addition, more than 10 people suffered eye injuries.
The indictment was prepared by an anti-terrorism prosecutor and accepted by a high criminal court in İstanbul. The document is 38 pages long. A total of nine police officers appear as plaintiffs in the indictment.
According to the indictment, the Gezi Park protests began with “good will” — that demonstrators wanted to show their reaction to a number of issues in the country — but the protests deviated from their purpose when marginal groups joined demonstrators. The indictment stated that the marginal groups wanted to topple the government through anti-democratic means by provoking demonstrators against the government.
The indictment said leaders of the Çarşı group, including Cem Yakışan, Erol Özdil and Halil İbrahim Erol, incited protestors to stage violent protests against the government.
Çarşı, beyond its support for Beşiktaş, is known for its social responsibility projects.
The indictment sparked reactions in Turkey from groups including politicians, human rights activists and football fans.
The group denounced the accusations against its leaders in a Twitter message. It said a fan club is facing claims of plotting a coup for the first time in the world and that this is happening in Turkey. “Çarşı is against coups,” the group noted.
In following posts, the group ironically acknowledged the accusation of coup plotting, saying it was seeking to stage a coup whenever it rushed to aid needy people in Turkey and around the world. “Yes, we were plotting a coup when we sent aid to schools in Turkey’s villages,” said one of its posts, which also featured Çarşı’s trucks filled with stationery items. “Another coup attempt from Çarşı,” read another post shared with a picture of dozens of wheelchairs the group recently donated to disabled groups.
Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deputy Chairman Sezgin Tanrıkulu described the accusation against the 35 Gezi protestors of attempting a coup as an “attempt to manipulate people’s perception” about facts related to the protests. “If we are to speak about a coup attempt, then this attempt was made by the AK Party [Justice and Development Party] government. Civilians were killed and lynched, thousands of people were wounded, hundreds of people were detained and a state of emergency was declared [during the protests],” he stated.
According to Tanrıkulu, the government sought to stage a “coup” against fundamental rights and freedoms during the Gezi Park protests. “Thus, the people who should be tried are not members of the Çarşı group or other protesters. They are officials of the AK Party government who violated people’s constitutional rights,” he added.
Independent deputy İdris Bal believes the indictment against the Gezi Park protestors is aimed at diverting people’s attention from accusations of corruption and bribery leveled at some government officials. “There may be corruption and bribery in any place in the world. But the issue is to remove the bad apple from the basket. However, the government is working to manipulate the people’s perception that any reaction against it is indeed a coup attempt,” Bal stated.
The AK Party government strongly believes that the Gezi Park protests were a coup attempt against it. Erdoğan, who was the prime minister at the time of the protests, argued on various occasions that the protests were not peaceful demonstrations, but an attempted coup against his government.
Similarly, newly elected Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu told a TV program on Sept. 4 that the Gezi Park protests were not a “coincidental incident,” implying that the protests were a pre-planned action to oust the AK Party government from power.
CHP deputy Atilla Kart described the new Gezi Park indictment as a strong indication of fascist rule in Turkey. “The government wishes to put the entire society under pressure. This is fascism. The government calls all acts by civilians, which include prevention of the uprooting of trees and protection of the environment, coup attempts,” he complained.
The president of the Law and Life Association, lawyer Mehmet Kasap, believes that accusing groups of government critics of a coup attempt aims to get rid of those critics and their criticism. “If they [Gezi protestors] had planned to stage a coup, things would have been very different. They objected to the uprooting of trees and they saved the trees. So, have they staged a coup?” he asked.
Kasap also said the Gezi Park protest grew violent due to provocative statements by some government officials.
Details of the indictment are as follows:
Phone conversations among some demonstrators prove that the demonstrators were hoping to overthrow the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government through the Gezi Park protests, according to the indictment. The indictment states that some demonstrators said on the phone that they did not care about Gezi Park or the trees and that their ultimate aim was for there to be a “revolution,” which in Turkey usually refers to a coup.
In another conversation, the demonstrators allegedly talk about a plan to attack the Prime Ministry building and turn the Gezi Park protests into a civil war, the indictment states, and added that the demonstrators also talked about a plan to violently attack the police and have some protestors killed during the attacks so that people would react against the police, which would make it easier to oust the government from power.
The indictment also notes that the Prime Ministry building, Parliament, the presidential palace and the prime minister’s official residence as well as his home in Keçiören, AK Party headquarters and AK Party offices in Ankara were all targets of attempted attacks.
The document went on to state that some demonstrators shared photos of clashes between protestors and the police with the foreign media so as to create an image in the international arena that a revolt similar to the Arab Spring was kicking off in Turkey.
According to police records, more than 3 million people across Turkey, which has a population of some 77 million, attended last summer’s protests. They represented a wide range of social groups, from secularist leftists to right wing groups, environmentalists, human rights activists, Alevis and other ethnic or religious communities.
Additionally, the indictment states that police found anti-aircraft weapons, gas masks, spray paint and banners which featured anti-government slogans at the houses of some protestors.
The indictment that accuses the 35 Gezi Park protestors, including Çarşı leaders, of attempting a coup and seeks aggravated life sentences for the protestors has drawn strong reactions from social media users, who have accused the government of describing all its critics as coup plotters.
Thousands of Twitter users have condemned the indictment under the hashtag # çArşıYalnızDeğildir (Çarşı is not alone). The hashtag was one of the top-trending Turkish hashtags on Twitter on Monday.
One Twitter user said Çarşı is the only well-intentioned coup plotter in the world. Another user said the indictment against the Çarşı group and other Gezi protestors is a source of shame. He said Çarşı is not solely a football fan club; it is also a civil society group that seeks to help those in need.
Some other users said they are fans of other Turkish football clubs but they strongly support Çarşı against this “unlawful” indictment.