Tear gas use against Gezi protesters might cost Turkey much at ECtHR

Turkish riot police use tear gas to disperse demonstrators during a protest against the destruction of trees in Gezi Park (Photo: Reuters)

Turkey might have to pay thousands of euros in compensation to victims of pepper spray and tear gas extensively used by the police against Gezi Park protesters in line with a recent ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) against Turkey in the case of two May Day protesters who were subjected to tear gas and police violence in 2006.
The applicants, Zuhal Subaşı and Ali Çoban, maintained that while taking part in a demonstration in İzmir on May 1, 2006, they had been attacked by police officers, who had kicked and beaten them and had used tear gas against them, and that the authorities had failed to carry out an effective investigation of their allegations of ill-treatment. The applicants relied in particular on Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which concerns the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment.
The Strasbourg-based court ruled that there were two violations of Article 3, which are ill-treatment and ineffective investigation in the case of Subaşı and Çoban.
The court ruled that Turkey must pay 15,000 euros to each of the applicants in non-pecuniary damages.
Given the fact that thousands of people who demonstrated against government plans to demolish Gezi Park in İstanbul's Taksim Square have been affected by the use of tear gas and pepper spray by the police, with many of them sustaining injuries or burns, they may possibly win compensation like Subaşı and Çoban if they take their cases to the European court.
The demonstrations, which began in late May, went nationwide due to the police's use of excessive force against the demonstrators. The protests were extensively covered by the foreign media.
Işıl Karakaş, a Turkish judge who represents Turkey at the ECtHR, said the court's ruling on the use of pepper gas and the police's use of disproportionate power is not the first one as the court had ruled against Turkey in similar cases in the past, adding that there are already many similar cases before the court.
She said the European court's latest ruling points to a shortcoming in Turkey about the existence of a regulation that sets the rules for the use of tear gas and pepper spray.
Indicating that the court's ruling will definitely set a precedent for Gezi Park demonstrators, Karakaş said: “It is up to the good functioning of Turkish domestic law [whether Gezi Park demonstrators will apply to the court]. If Turkish domestic law functions well, there will be no need for individuals to go to the ECtHR.”
President of the Human Rights Association (İHD) Öztürk Türkdoğan told Today's Zaman in a phone interview that the ECtHR ruling on Subaşı and Çoban will definitely set a precedent for the Gezi Park demonstrators who were subjected to frequent use of tear gas and pepper spray.
He said the İHD is now making preparations to apply to the Constitutional Court, demanding a temporary injunction against the use of pepper spray, which he said has been widely used in most demonstrations in Turkey since this year's May Day celebrations.
He explained that the application will be made individually as the court is accepting individual applications, and if the top court refuses to issue a temporary injunction, then the individuals who sustained physical or psychological damage due to the police's use of tear gas and pepper spray during Gezi Park demonstrations will take their cases to the European court because they will have exhausted domestic remedies.
In further remarks, he said Turkey fails to comply with rules set by the United Nations about the use of pepper spray and that the country will sooner or later have to bear the consequences of this failure.
A woman named Ceyda Sungur has become the symbol of police's arbitrary use of pepper spray with a photo of her in a red summer dress and showing a policeman firing pepper spray directly at her face. As she turned, the masked policeman leapt forward and sprayed her back. The unprovoked attack on the woman left her and other activists choking and gasping for breath; afterwards, Sungur collapsed on a bench.
Tayfun Kahraman, a member of Taksim Platform, a solidarity group formed to oppose the planned demolition of Gezi Park in Taksim, said the treatment received by the Gezi Park demonstrators is no different than the treatment received by May Day demonstrators in İzmir and that Gezi Park demonstrators have even been subjected to harsher treatment by the police.
So Kahraman said he expects similar rulings to come out of the European court for Gezi Park protesters.
“Many people were injured, many of them lost their sight and many others sustained severe burns on their bodies due to random and arbitrary use of tear gas and pepper spray during the Gezi Park demonstrations,” he said, adding that after exhausting domestic remedies, many of the victims will knock on the Strasbourg-based court's door to demand justice.
Five people, including a policeman, have died and more than 5,000 have been injured in the clashes with police, according to a Turkish rights group.

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