Friday's detention of academics, civil society activists aimed at criminalising Gezi Park protests

The detention of 13 Turkish academics and civil society activists on Friday over charges of organising Gezi Park protests in 2013 is an absurd move aiming to criminalise the Gezi protests and to silence the opposition, Turkish activists speaking to Ahval said.

The detainees are said to be linked to Osman Kavala, Turkish philanthropist and human rights defender, who has been jailed for more than a year with no official charges. 

The Istanbul’s Public Prosecutor’s Office on Friday stated that the 13 people taken into police custody on Friday were related to Kavala’s NGO Anadolu Kültür and took part in the organisation of Gezi Park protests in 2013. 

The prosecutor's office said detainees tried to spread the protests in Istanbul to other locations in Turkey, raised money to finance events, recruited activists from abroad and promoted the protests in the media. 

The protests in 2013 first started as a peaceful sit-in to protest a development plan in Gezi Park in Istanbul, but later turned into a nationwide event after Turkish police’s harsh interventions against the protestors. 

Protesters occupied Gezi Park for almost two weeks and succeeded in reversing plans for its demolition, and in spite of deaths and injuries of protesters and the lack of success in effecting broader political change, the exuberant and creative spirit of the protests is still remembered fondly by many who took part.

Gezi protests were a social objection, said Mücella Yapıcı, an architect and a leading member of the Istanbul Solidarity group, established to oppose Turkish government’s plans to build a shopping mall in Gezi Park.

“Gezi protests were peaceful,” said Yapıcı. “They were not guided by some group. It was the people’s will.”

Yapıcı added that the detentions on Friday aimed to criminalise Gezi protests and the accusations have no basis. “I believe our friends will be released in a short time,” she said. 

“Bringing activists from abroad is a nonsense, absurd accusation,” Yapıcı said, adding that the operation seemed as an attempt of the Turkish government to fabricate justification for Kavala’s imprisonment.

“At the moment the European Court of Human Rights has a demand [for the investigation into Kavala], it says ‘seed up’ the process. It seems like, in order to counter that demand, there is an attempt to detain people working in Anadolu Kültür, Osman Kavala’s non-governmental organisation to make it look like the investigation is getting wider,” she said. 

Volkan Kesanbilici, the spokesman of an organisation founded to support the rights of the people that were killed or injured during Gezi protests, said that the detentions seemed as an attempt of the government to divert the attention of the Turkish society.

“The detentions show that the government is in a very difficult situation and I think it is trying to prevent events like Gezi protests. ‘Don’t oppose, otherwise the same will happen to you’ they are trying to say,” Kesanbilici said. 

Kesanbilici said that he thought similar detentions would follow. “You can blame Gezi protests for many things, but it is an insult to say that some person instructed so many people to take the streets. Gezi protestors were people who refused to be obedient. Those detainees are very valuable people, but none of them have the power to make millions to take the streets,” he said. 

“Only one person made those people to take the streets. And this person was the one in power. The government is the organiser of Gezi protests. People do not take the streets for money or for some similar motivation. We are not such people who would act according to instructions made by others,” he said. 

The arrests related to the Gezi Park protests on Friday nabbed the top spot on Turkey’s agenda, including social media, with users taking to Twitter on the matter. 

An estimated 3.5 million Turks joined the protests in 2013, and many of these showed their support for the detainees using the hashtag #hepimizGezideydik – “We were all at Gezi.”