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Anti-government protesters go on trial in Turkey

ISTANBUL: The trial of more than two dozen anti-government protesters began in Turkey on Thursday with one defendant blasting the charges against them as “ridiculous” and Amnesty International denouncing the process as a “show trial”.Twenty-six members of the Taksim Solidarity umbrella group, including doctors, architects and engineers, face up to 29 years in prison for their part in leading the protests a year ago. The charges include founding a criminal syndicate, violating public order and organising illegal protests through social media.“You cannot found a criminal organisation by saying ‘I don’t want a shopping mall’. It is a very ridiculous charge,” one of the key accused, Mucella Yapici, head of the Istanbul chamber of architects, told the court. Last year’s protests began as a small environmental movement to stop the re-development of the city’s Gezi Park and quickly blew up into wider nationwide demonstrations against the perceived authoritarianism of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “They have submitted as evidence a picture of me shouting for help while police fired tear gas in my face,” Yapici said in a speech that drew cheers from those in court.The protests left at least eight people dead and some 8,000 injured after a brutal police crackdown. “We started a resistance which was examplary to the world, which was very peaceful,” Yapici told the court. “But we faced increasing violence each time we took the streets. I was gassed from a very short distance and my friends who were defending me were badly injured after the police attacked. “We were stripped naked at the police station, I was about to have gastric bleeding because I was deprived of my pills,” she added. Outside the court, supporters of the Taskim Solidarity group held banners in a show of solidarity with the defendants. Amnesty International urged the Turkish authorities to abandon what it called “a vindictive, politically motivated show trial without a shred of evidence of actual crimes”.”The prosecution has concocted a case simply to send a strong message to the rest of Turkey that the authorities will ruthlessly pursue anyone who dissents and organises protests against government policies.” The Taksim Solidarity group was formed in 2012 after the government announced plans to redevelop Gezi Park, one of the last remaining green spaces in central Istanbul, and neighbouring Taksim Square, the country’s symbolic rallying point. The group met Erdogan at the height of the unrest to discuss the protesters’ demands, only to be accused by the premier of being “traitors” aiming to destabilise the government. Yapici, 63, told AFP before the trial that she was not afraid to spend the rest of her life behind bars. “I’ve lived a full life. It doesn’t matter where I spend the rest of it when you consider that a 14-year-old boy has been killed,” she said, referring to Berkin Elvan who died of injuries sustained during the unrest.Also on trial is Ali Cerkezoglu, secretary general of the Istanbul Medical Chamber, who treated several wounded protesters. In January, Turkey passed a new law making it a crime for doctors to provide emergency first aid without a permit, which critics said was an attempt to block doctors from treating protesters. Several trials related to the protests are already taking place across the country, but Thursday’s trial has the highest profile.“The only goal of this case is to scare people. Prosecutors hand-picked a person from each social group with the aim of putting them in jail. They want to show that anyone, regardless of their age, profession or background, can be prosecuted for being a protester,” said Baki Boga, of the Human Rights Association Turkey. “This is a politically-motivated case aimed at completely wiping out the dissenting voices in Turkey.” The government did not go ahead with the plans to demolish the park, but it has become a site of frequent clashes between police and protesters. Dozens were injured on the anniversary of last year’s protest on May 31. 

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