Amnesty condemns Turkey's 'brutal' crackdown on summer protests

ISTANBUL Wed Oct 2, 2013 11:14am EDT

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish authorities committed widespread rights abuses in their crackdown on popular demonstrations in June, beating, abusing and harassing protesters, and using unnecessary force, Amnesty International said on Wednesday.

In a 72-page report, "Brutal denial of the right to peaceful assembly in Turkey", the rights group said police fired plastic bullets directly at protesters' heads and tear gas canisters were fired into residential buildings and medical facilities.

Two women told Amnesty how they were hit and groped by police after being detained in Ankara. When they complained, police either refused to record the complaint or brought the character of the accuser into question, the report said.

Four protesters and a police officer died and more than an estimated 8,000 people were injured in the summer unrest which erupted when police used tear gas and water cannon to try to clear peaceful protesters from an Istanbul park.

"Widespread and systematic abusive force was used by law enforcement officials in violation of international human rights standards," Amnesty said in a news release.

There was no immediate government response to the report, but Turkish officials have defended the police response and said abuses will be investigated. A senior justice ministry official contacted by Reuters and the Turkish National Police in Ankara both declined to comment.

Amnesty called on governments and suppliers to impose an immediate ban on exports or transfers of riot control equipment to Turkey, and keep the ban in place until authorities allow an impartial investigation into the allegations.

"The levels of violence used by police ... clearly show what happens when poorly trained, poorly supervised police officers are instructed to use force - and encouraged to use it unsparingly - safe in the knowledge that they are unlikely ever to be identified or prosecuted for their abuses," said Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International's Turkey expert.

"Their tactics of choice have been force, threats, insults and prosecution," he said.

Demonstrators, some armed with rocks, fireworks and Molotov cocktails, clashed with police firing tear gas, water cannon and pepper spray night after night around the country in the summer in an unprecedented show of defiance against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government.

One protester, Ethem Sarisuluk, was shot in the head and killed. A police officer has since been charged with exceeding the limits of self-defense.

A fifth protester died last month as sporadic protests rumble on.

Erdogan, who remains Turkey's most popular politician despite the protests, branded the protesters as "riff-raff" and coup plotters bent on wrecking the country's political and economic stability.

Erdogan this week announced a landmark set of reforms designed to strengthen democracy and protect minority groups.

Amnesty said the "democratization package" failed to address violations during the Gezi Park protests, or to take any serious steps to ensure that they would not be repeated, however.

(Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun and Humeyra Pamuk in Ankara; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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