Gov't says Saturday Mothers cannot gather at Galatasaray Square due to its ‘touristic' nature

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) met on Jan. 28 to review Turkey’s human rights record. The Turkish delegation attending the review meeting defended Turkey's previous move to ban Saturdays Mothers from gathering at Galatasaray Square by saying this meeting point is a "central touristic area."

Duvar English

The Turkish government has said that it banned the Saturday Mothers – a group who has been holding vigils for their relatives who disappeared or were killed in suspicious circumstances in the 90s – from gathering at Galatasaray Square on Istanbul's famous İstiklal Avenue because this meeting point is a “central touristic area where nearly 2 million people work, visit or pass-by each day.”

The comments were made by the Turkish delegation during a meeting of the Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group in Geneva on Jan. 28.

Turkey is one of the 14 states reviewed by the UPR Working Group during its session which will be held until Jan. 31. Turkey's first and second UPR reviews took place in May 2010 and January 2015, respectively.

“Galatasaray Square in Beyoğlu district where Saturday Mothers want to assemble and organize a sit-in protest is not listed among the routes for demonstrations. These routes are determined in consultations with civil society, political parties and relevant municipalities. Galatasaray Square and İstiklal Avenue are central touristic areas where nearly 2 million people work, visit or pass-by each day,” said an official from the Turkish Interior Ministry during the meeting.

The Saturday Mothers is one of the longest-running peaceful protest movements in the world. On Saturdays since 1995, the families gather and demand justice for their relatives who disappeared and were killed allegedly after being detained by undercover units.

After the authorities in 2018 banned the group from gathering at the Galatasaray Square, the group members started to hold their vigils in front of the office of Turkey’s Human Rights Association (İHD).

Turkey's deputy foreign minister Faruk Kaymakcı also took the floor at the U.N. meeting on Jan. 28, saying Turkish authorities have the right to restrict gatherings “to the extent necessary in the interests of national security, public safety, public order, protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights of others.”

Saturday Mothers reacted against the Turkish delegation's reasoning for the ban, posting pictures of police barricades and police officers present at the Galatasaray Square on their social media.

“This is the area for which the Foreign Ministry says 'The area has been banned [from holding gatherings] because it is touristic.' 'The touristic area,' which has been closed not to only Saturday Mothers but also to citizens and tourists, is under police blockade for the last 76 weeks,” the group said in a tweet on Jan. 28.

Countries express concern over Turkey's practice of replacing elected mayors with trustees

Meanwhile, during the UPR, many countries countries expressed concern over Turkey's practice of replacing elected mayors with government-appointed trustes.

Respecting fundamental freedoms, the rule of law, local governance and election results is central for a functioning democracy, many countries said.

In addition to detentions and arrests, Turkey’s Interior Ministry often appoints trustees to replace elected mayors from the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) in the country’s southeast, citing “terror related charges,” referring to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The HDP previously called for an early election to protest the government’s dismissal of its mayors.

Panelists at the UPR Working Group have also touched upon on free speech repression in Turkey, recommending that Turkey should bring its anti-terrorism law in line with international human rights standards and should prevent prosecution of journalists and human rights defenders peacefully exercising their human rights.