The Turkish police forcefully dispersed a group of activists, some of them women in their 80s, over the weekend, breaking up a regular vigil in Istanbul to protest the forced disappearances of hundreds of people.
The group, known as the Saturday Mothers, was to hold its 700th meeting on Saturday to demand justice for those who disappeared after a military coup in 1980 and in the ensuing fighting between Turkish security forces and Kurdish insurgents in southeastern Turkey. The police used tear gas to stop the protest and arrested 47 people. All were released by Saturday evening.
Among them was Emine Ocak, who is said to be older than 80. She has attended the vigils regularly since her son Hasan disappeared in 1995. His tortured body was eventually found, but his killers have never been identified.
On Saturday, her arrest caused an uproar among the protesters.
“We went to the police bus to take her back,” said Sezgin Tanrikulu, an opposition lawmaker who had joined the sit-in. “Her daughter went behind her. They got Ocak off the bus, but took her daughter into custody.”
“The police detained people by beating them, though they were just sitting,” Mr. Tanrikulu said. “They were neither resisting the police, nor disobeying the law of gatherings and rallies.”
The Saturday Mothers have gathered for a weekly sit-in at Galatasaray Square in central Istanbul since 1995, with occasional breaks because of political pressure. The group is said to have been inspired by the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who held regular protests to learn the fates of those who disappeared during Argentina’s military dictatorship. Hundreds of Turks are believed to have disappeared while in police custody in the 1980s and ’90s, when the country’s conflict with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or P.K.K., was at its peak.
The Saturday Mothers seek the bodies or the burial sites of their loved ones and the prosecution of perpetrators.
Besna Tosun, 35, has taken part in the sit-ins since 1995, the year her father, Fehmi Tosun, was taken from their home. She was also arrested on Saturday.
The police crackdown followed an announcement by the authorities of the district of Beyoglu, where the rally is held, that the meeting would be banned. They said that calls for the protest to take place had been made on social media accounts linked to the P.K.K., which Turkey considers a terrorist organization.
The forceful dispersion of the rally comes two months after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won a new mandate with widespread powers, which activists fear will be used to squeeze freedom of expression in Turkey.
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