From the TUC

Turkish court frees trade unionists

25 Mar 2015, By

For a number of years now I have covered Turkey as a member of the TUC’s European Union and International Department. During those years I have written protest letter after protest letter to the Turkish Embassy, Turkish government and our own government complaining about the treatment of Turkish trade unionist. A non-stop tale of trade unionists abused in the street by the forces of the Turkish state as well as abused by the Turkish courts. Yesterday’s news from Istanbul was therefore most welcome and indeed heartening.

Yesterday morning five leaders of trade unions representing a wide range of workers from teachers to doctors, to architects and engineers, were acquitted by the Criminal Court of First Instance No. 28, Istanbul, when it dismissed charges of ‘inciting the public to illegally assemble and demonstrate’ in relation to events at Istanbul’s Taksim Square on 1 May 2014, contrary to Article 27 of the Law on Demonstrations and Public Meetings (Law No. 2911).

In such cases it’s normal for fellow trade unionists to attend not just from Turkey but from other countries as well as human rights bodies. Witnessing these trials not only is an important expression of solidarity but it also lets the Turkish authorities know that the eyes of the world are upon them. In this instance, two of the Turkish trade union centres directly involved, DISK and KESK, asked Canadian human rights lawyer Lori Ann Wanlin, specialising in crime and international human rights, to monitor the trial on behalf of the London-based International Centre for Trade Union Rights.

Lori’s full report can be found at www.ictur.org/Pdf/Wanlin.pdf but some of the key points are:

  • The fair trial rights of the Five Leaders appear to have been respected both before and during the hearing
  • The troubling aspect of the case lies with the decision to proceed, the charges laid, and ultimately the sentence sought.
  • Many questions about the claims in the Indictment were left unanswered as a result of the Prosecutor’s decision not to make submissions
  • Where there is “no evidence with sufficient gravity to justify the suspicion which is required to open a public claim, or there is no legal possibility of prosecution” the Prosecutor shall, pursuant to Article 172 (1) of the Turkish Penal Procedure Code, render a “decision on no ground for prosecution”. Given the evidence presented at the hearing it is unclear to the Observer on what basis the Prosecutor could have concluded that it had evidence of sufficient gravity to pursue the case.
  • The five-year sentence offered to the Five Leaders is yet another example of prosecutorial overreach. As noted earlier, the sanctions for violating the Law on Demonstrations and Public Meetings range from 6 months to 5 years. Based on the facts of the case, to offer a suspended sentence equivalent to the maximum available sanction is excessive.

In welcoming the outcome of the trial Lori said:

“We can only hope that no trade unionists face similar spurious prosecutions in relation to the 2015 events to mark 1 May”.

We all obviously share that hope but recent history provides us with little comfort. For reasons I explained in a previous blog, Taksim Square remains an iconic location for Turkish trade unionists. It was at this site that 42 Turkish trade unionists lost their lives in 1977, when shots were fired into a May Day demonstration. Despite the fact that the current Turkish government had nothing to do with the events of 1977, it has been determined that no such demonstrations shall be held in the Square. To add to the political sensitivity, Taksim Square is next to the site of Gezi Park where a wave of anti-government demonstrations started and swept across much of Turkey in 2013.

For May Day 2015 to pass peacefully, the Turkish state will have to show a greater restraint than it has done in recent years and an impartiality under the law achieved in a Turkish court only yesterday.