‘I haven’t seen such violence since Vietnam protests’

By Çiçek TAHAOĞLU, bianet:

A delegation of Swedish politicians and human rights advocates came to Turkey to visit political women prisoners. They attended the Newroz celebrations and criticized the excessive use of violence and tear gas by the police. In an interview with bianet, they also gave their opinion about Turkish politics and the country’s EU accession.

This year’s Newroz celebrations were marked by tear gas and police violence. Even though the dozens of cases of violations during the celebrations were not reported on the Turkish main stream television channels, the encounter of European parliamentarians with tear gas in Turkey made it into the European press. Delegations from Denmark, Italy and Sweden were in Turkey during the Newroz celebrations.

A delegation of eleven women, five members of the Left Party and six women from women’s networks, came from Sweden. They visited women politicians and women organizations in the south-eastern cities of Mardin and Diyarbakır and also attended the Newroz celebrations.

Bianet was able to talk to four members of the delegation in Istanbul before their return to Sweden: Ann-Margarethe Livh from the Swedish Left Party, Head of the Stockholm Equality Commission; UNEFEM Sweden Steering Board Member Marianne Eriksson, former Left Party parliamentarian; Naile Aras from the Left Party and women rights activist Josefin Castillo.

“Witnessed such police violence for the first time”

The four women were still under the impression of their experiences in Nusaybin during the Newroz celebrations. All of them said that they witnessed such police violence and extensive use of tear gas for the first time in their lives.

They expressed their anger about the police surrounding those who came to the Newroz celebrations and smothering everybody with tear gas.

Livh said that thousands of people were in the streets, many of whom brought their children and prams. Eriksson stated, “I am 60 years old. I have not seen such police violence since the Vietnam protests and they did not have tear gas back then”.

“They were chasing us although we were trying to escape. Also in the side streets they cut our way and sprayed gas at us. One colleague in our delegation panicked and started crying. We lost each other in that turmoil and we remained as a group of four. A little bit later, a car stopped behind us and saved us. We saved another woman on the way. I have no idea how we were able to fit that many people into one car”.

The women said that they entered the car of a stranger for the very first time in their lives in order to get away from the police. The car owners invited them to their home and served tea to help them calm down.

“We liked the helpfulness and hospitality of the civil people very much. If they treat us like that we will come more often and they might get bored of us” Eriksson laughed. “But we did not like the tear gas at all. We do not want to experience that again”, she continued seriously. Livh added, “We will bring lemons during our next visit. It was horrible what the police did and the whole world observed it”.

Drawing attention to women in prison

The actual reason for the delegation’s visit to Turkey was the plan to visit women in prison detained for political reasons. Since they were not allowed to make any visits, the delegation issued press releases in front of the prisons in Mardin and Diyarbakır.

“We assumed that we would not be able to meet the women in prison. Several European Union (EU) parliamentarians said that they were trying to meet the imprisoned women but have not achieved any result yet”.

“In fact it is our aim to show solidarity with these women and to show them that they are not being forgotten because we would like it to be that way if we were put in jail”.

Eriksson commented on the trial related to the Union of Kurdish Communities (KCK) saying that “everybody who observes this case compares it to a joke”. As the delegation they wanted to see the situation with their own eyes, she added.

Livh and Aras have been observing the KCK main trial heard in Diyarbakır for a long time. The imprisoned women are mainly politicians just like them, Livh said. She got to know some of them personally. The Swedish politician drew attention to the fact that many women who were actively working for a non-governmental organization and/or local governments were jailed.

“In my opinion, this is a strategy for the local elections. The AKP (ruling Justice and Development Party) suffered a shock in the last elections. There are almost one hundred BDP (pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party) municipalities. Now the majority of these mayors or municipality employees are in prison. There will be no people left outside prison for candidateship or campaigning until the next election”.

“Especially most of the members of women city assemblies are behind bars. Some assemblies are not functional any more. We even learned that the prisons are cram-full”.

Livh emphasized that women in Turkey were working with all their power without knowing what the next day will bring. “One of them is being arrested every day. Under such pressure it is very impressive to provide help and training to the women and to see that their agencies are being continued. I do not understand how they are doing that”.

“President Erdoğan should go there to learn how to do politics from these women”, Eriksson added.

Demonstrating without police violence

“It is a human right to associate and demonstrate or celebrate without being exposed to police violence. As long as you are living in a civilized society, of course…”

Livh argued that the Kurdish question was discussed a lot in the EU but that every country had different interests. “Yet, nobody cares about human rights violations. France and a couple of other countries do not want Turkey in the EU anyways. Turkey is not going to join the EU if these violations will continue but it will sustain its role as a bargaining agent in the Middle East. This serves the interest of many countries”.

Eriksson said that their visit to Turkey was horrible on one hand and positive on the other hand. “Many people in Europe do not understand the attitude of the police in this situation. However, the situation appears more clearly to them when a delegation visits prisons and personally witnesses the behaviour of the police during Newroz”.

“Turkey needs to stop this attitude immediately. There is nothing else to say”, the Swedish delegation concluded. (ÇT)

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