Blog 26. Juni 2015

Football fans in the dock

Demonstration at Taksim Square in Istanbul (June 2013).

35 members of the Istanbul football fan club Çarşı have been accused of "attempting to carry out a coup" during the Gezi protests in 2013. The third and final hearing is taking place on 26 June.

Barbara Neppert is head of the Turkey country coordination group of the German section of Amnesty International

An excavator, face masks, a water bottle. These are a few items from the alleged evidence used to take the 35 members of the Çarşı football fan club to court. The charge is one of an "attempted coup". The sentence is as absurd as the charge itself: if convicted, the defendants face lifelong imprisonment.

There is a reason why Istanbul football fans are being accused of an alleged "attempted coup": they are members of the Çarşı fan club, which supports Beşiktaş, the Istanbul team. Çarşı has made a name for itself primarily through its choreography and chanting on the stands. However its members also champion social and environmental issues – as they did during the Gezi protests in the summer of 2013. The fan club was one of the main groups which carried on demonstrating despite massive police violence. This is why many of them were arrested.

Amnesty International has criticised the trial from the outset. Not just because of the sentence but also because it is symptomatic of the attitude of the Turkish authorities towards the Gezi protests. Instead of calling those responsible for police violence to account, the people who took part in the protests have been criminalised. To date, Turkish authorities have instituted criminal proceedings against around 5500 demonstrators. Thanks to a legislative packet for "internal security", the right to demonstrate was further restricted in April 2015.

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Lawyers Avukat İnan Kaya and Anna Luczak in Berlin (18 June 2015).

It was already evident that the charge against Çarşı was politically motivated on the first day of the hearing, 16 December 2014. After the first 27 defendants had been heard, it quickly became obvious that those sitting in the dock were football fans and not members of an alleged "terrorist organisation". The same applied on the second day of the trial, 2 April 2015, when I attended as a trial observer at Istanbul’s Çağlayan court. Police witnesses, who were actually supposed to testify against the members of Çarşı, claimed never to have been involved in a clashes with them.

On this day I met İnan Kaya, one of the Çarşı barristers, who gave us details of the trial. Together with him and the German Republican Lawyers’ Society (Republikanischer Anwältinnen - und Anwälteverein e.V. (RAV)), our country coordination group for Turkey organised an event about the trial in Berlin on 18 June 2015. Here again, İnan Kaya emphasised that Çarşı never directed the protests: "There was no call for people to demonstrate, no organisation, they simply all turned up".

The third and final day of the trial is today, Friday. In view of the scanty evidence, Amnesty International and Çarşı’s many supporters hope for an acquittal. In the context of the Gezi protests, several members of the "Taksim Solidarity" platform were accused of "founding a criminal organisation" in similarly absurd legal proceedings. This charge was dropped at the end of April.

According to various sources the final hearing has been postponed to 11 September 2015.

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