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Iran Press TV

Turkey puts 16 public figures on trial for 2013 anti-government protests

Iran Press TV

Mon Jun 24, 2019 01:59PM

Turkey has put on trial 16 high-profile figures accused of involvement in acts of "terror" and trying to overthrow the government of then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2013 nationwide protests.

The trial, taking place in a prison complex on the outskirts of Istanbul on Monday, was about the mass "Gezi Park" demonstrations that started in the summer of 2013 as a protest against the redevelopment of one of the last green spaces in central Istanbul.

The protests snowballed into a nationwide movement and marked one of the biggest challenges to Erdogan's rule at the time.

Turkish prosecutors said in a 657-page indictment that all the 16 defendants, including businessmen, academics and artists, would face life sentence if convicted in the case as they "attempted to overthrow the government" through organizing and financing an "uprising."

During the 2013 unrest, Erdogan dismissed the idea that the protests were environmentally motivated, saying they aimed to topple his government. The Turkish riot police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse mostly peaceful protesters, leading to widespread criticism of how Turkey's authorities handled the protests.

The Monday indictment named 746 people as injured parties during Gezi Park nationwide protests in 2013, holding the defendants responsible for all injuries and damage to property.

Human Rights Watch denounced the charges as "bogus" and said the indictment falls short of explaining how the defendants allegedly planned an uprising.

The international organization said the aim of the trial was to "silence and punish the defendants for their legitimate and entirely peaceful civic activities and work."

Among the defendants was prominent businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala, whose detention since November 2017 has made him a symbol of what critics say is a crackdown on civil society.

Kavala, who along with other defendants has repeatedly denied the charges, said in his testimony on Monday that there was no evidence against him to substantiate the claims that he had planned an uprising in 2013.

"I'm no different than the hundreds of thousands of people who conducted peaceful activities during the Gezi events and I request my release and acquittal," Kavala told the Silivri court in the west of Istanbul.

"The accusation for which I have been imprisoned for the past 20 months is based on a series of claims that have no factual basis and defy logic," he added.

Several hundred supporters of the defendants gathered outside the courthouse, with riot police watching nearby.

The trial comes against a backdrop of concerns about growing authoritarianism in Turkey, where tens of thousands have been arrested since a failed military coup targeting Erdogan in 2016.

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