Turkish police detain over 20 at commemoration ceremony for Gezi victim

Seven years after his death, Ethem Sarısülük continues to lay bare tensions between the Turkish government and its critics. 

Sülük was killed after a police officer shot him in the head in capital Ankara on June 1, 2013, as he took part in the biggest anti-government demonstrations since President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002.

Ankara police detained on Monday over 20 people gathered for a ceremony to commemorate Sülük in the Turkish capital, state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

Video footage shared on social media showed police dragging protesters on the ground.

The police cited the violation of coronavirus pandemic measures as the reason for the detentions, Artı Gerçek news site reported.

Sarısülük is one of 12 protestors, whose death is linked to excessive police force during the Gezi demonstrations, which saw Turkish police use live ammunition, tear gas, water cannon, plastic bullets and beatings, leaving thousands of people injured at the scene of nation-wide demonstrations.

A Turkish court sentenced the officer who killed 26-year-old Sarısülük, Ahmet Şahbaz, to eight years in prison over manslaughter on in July 2014. But critics and the victim's supporters have blasted the verdict as being too lenient.

Gezi saw widespread international and domestic support from critics of the Erdoğan’s Islamist government.

The Turkish president has gone on record to say that anyone supporting the Gezi Park protests, whether secretly or openly, also supports the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group that has been at war in Turkey for more than three decades, and the Gülen movement, which is blamed for the 2016 failed coup. Turkey designates both groups as terrorist organisations.

Groups like Amnesty International have accused Turkish authorities of human rights violations on a massive scale in cruising the 2013 protests. 

Sarısülük’s death continues to stoke tensions in the country, where Gezi has come to form a sharp divide between supporters and critics of the ruling AKP.

A Turkish director Murad Çobanoğlu, on the anniversary of the protests on Sunday, accused the former long-time AKP mayor of Ankara, Melih Gökçek, of adding fuel the Gezi protests by placing a banner thanking the Turkish police at the exact location where Sarısülük had been shot.

“Gökçek added fuel to fire by having this banner hung at the location the young man was shot,” Çobanoğlu said on Twitter. The move changed the course of events in the protests for the worse, he said.

Meanwhile, the former Ankara mayor blasted Turkish actor Barış Atay on Twitter over his post on the Gezi anniversary, calling for a completion of a “half-finished task.”

“This is an overt call for a riot. We are calling on our prosecutors to take action,” Gökçek said on Twitter.

Meanwhile, the Taksim Solidarity Platform,  an umbrella group, including doctors, architects and engineers, gathered in Istanbul’s Taksim to release a statement on the anniversary of the 2013 protests.

"Gezi is the hope and opportunity for equality, freedom and hope in this land,’’ lawyer Can Atalay said.