Members of a group of relatives of victims of enforced disappearances in Turkey held a vigil in central Istanbul without police intervention for the first time since 2018.
Known as the “Saturday Mothers” (“Cumartesi Anneleri” in Turkish), the group has met every Saturday since May 1995 in the heart of Istanbul, holding peaceful sit-ins to demand justice and remember relatives who went missing after a military coup in 1980 and during a state of emergency in the 1990s, especially in the predominantly Kurdish southeast.
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In 2018, police violently cracked down on their demonstration following an announcement by local authorities that it would be banned because calls for the rally had been allegedly made on social media accounts linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist group by Ankara and its Western allies. Police used force and tear gas to disperse participants.
Ten protesters held their vigil on Saturday without any police interference, at Istanbul’s Galatasaray Square. It was their 972nd such vigil, the group said in a statement on X.
The resumption of the vigil comes after Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya, the former governor of Istanbul, on Wednesday said the government had “good intentions” and a peaceful solution would be found over the issue, responding to questions by opposition lawmakers during a parliamentary session.
“We will not stop searching for all our missing people and demanding that the perpetrators be tried and punished,” the “Saturday Mothers” group said on X.
The Constitutional Court's decision was followed; no police blockade or detention, ongoing for 700 weeks, occurred today.
— MLSA (@mlsaturkey) November 11, 2023
The disappearances happened at the peak of the PKK’s rebellion demanding self-rule in the Kurdish-dominated southeast.
The activists have said their relatives went missing after reported abductions, in police detention, or in extrajudicial killings. International rights groups have called for a probe into the allegations. The group says the government has never properly investigated the fate of those who disappeared after being detained by the authorities.
Members of the group went on trial in 2021 on charges of refusing to disperse despite police warnings, and for the past five years, police have been dispersing and detaining members of the group every Saturday when they attempt to stage their protest.
In February, the Constitutional Court ruled that the right to organise demonstrations of some members of the group had been violated.