By Esra Aygin
In a landmark decision last week, a Turkish Cypriot court ruled that police, by intervening in a 2011 demonstration against Turkey’s then prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, violated fundamental rights and freedoms.
Drawing from articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights covering the right to peaceful protest, judge Mine Gucluer Ozankaya found the police guilty of violation of the freedoms of expression and assembly. She also found the police guilty of assault, wrongful arrest and false imprisonment.
On July 19, 2011, members of a number of Turkish Cypriot trade unions, civil society organisations and political parties had gathered in central Nicosia to protest Erdogan, who had arrived on the island that day. Police violently broke up the demonstration and arrested six people. Video footage shows police punching, kicking and dragging protesters and confiscating their placards.
The case, which was concluded last week, was brought by protestor Nevzat Hami, against police officer Gursel Gunduzler, the Turkish Cypriot police and the Turkish Cypriot security forces, which report directly to Ankara. Hami was assaulted, arrested and spent 21 hours under detention.
As she handed the verdict down, judge Ozankaya stated that the demonstration against Erdogan continued in a peaceful manner until “police officers intervened to disperse the protesters through disproportionate use of violence.” She said that the police acted with “malevolence and despotism”.
Judge Ozankaya ruled that in addition to the violation of freedom of expression and assembly, Hami was assaulted, wrongfully arrested and deprived of his right to freedom through false imprisonment during which he was not informed of the reasons for his arrest and the charges against him.
The judge awarded Hami 22,250 Turkish lira (around 3,500 euros) in non-pecuniary damages. She also decided on exemplary damages of 20 per cent for “oppressive, arbitrary and unconstitutional action” increasing the total to 26,700 Turkish lira (around 4,200 euros).
The Turkish prime minister at the time, Erdogan had arrived on the island on July 19, 2011 to attend the July 20 parade marking the anniversary of the Turkish military operation in Cyprus. The demonstrations were aimed at protesting Ankara’s policies in the northern part of Cyprus as well as Erdogan’s recent statements that were deemed offensive by Turkish Cypriots.
The year 2011 was particularly tense in the relations between Turkey and the north after Turkey imposed an economic programme that included austerity measures and the privatisation of a number of state owned enterprises.
To protest the economic programme, Turkish Cypriots organised a huge demonstration against the AKP government in January 2011.
“We don’t want your money, your officials or your measures,” was one of the main banners at the demonstration while the protestors chanted, “Ankara, get your hands off our collar.”
Erdogan’s reaction to the protest was particularly harsh: “They tell Turkey to get out,” he complained. “Who are you? I have martyrs there. I have veterans there. I have strategic interests there… It is noteworthy that those fed by us, are behaving this way.”
These statements prompted even bigger protests by Turkish Cypriots in March and April.
On July 19, under strict orders to ensure calm and order, police had first raided the building of the Turkish Cypriot Civil Servants’ Union (KTAMS), confiscated a banner that read “You give us one, you take five and then you shamelessly say you feed us,” and detained two trade unionists.
Strict security measures were also taken with armed police and soldiers lining the way of Erdogan’s entourage while helicopters circled the sky.
Police intolerance and measures against demonstrations have been increasing in the north in parallel with intensifying police violence in Turkey. An attempt to bring a riot control vehicle to the island was blocked in 2013 after a huge outcry by Turkish Cypriots.