Friday, October 4, 2013
Turkish Protest Gone Wrong
Last spring, protests grew out of more modest demonstrations in Turkey after the government planned on the construction of a shopping mall on Gezi Park in Istanbul. To counteract these protests, the government ended up using over 130,000 tear gas cartridges over the span of 20 days of protest, killing five and leaving thousands of people injured. The riot police were noted to have used tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons, and Prime Minister Erdogan was widely criticized for what happened.
According to a report released last week, over 11,000 protesters nationwide were exposed to tear gas for up to eight hours a day over the course of several days during the protest. Almost 40 percent of the total protesters complained of having serious repercussions from their exposure to tear gas, including respiratory problems, allergic reactions, high blood pressure, hearing loss, and skin rashes.
While the government argues that the protests groups were actually members of terrorist groups in Istanbul, the rest of the world sees chemical weapons as a huge issue. Just as we are seeing in Syria, the use of chemical weapons can have serious and detrimental effects on the lives of people. In Syria, the chemical weapons used were more deadly, but tear gas used by the Turkish police is leading to serious effects on the lives of protesters. The excess amount of tear gas is a clear example of human rights’ violations, when the protesters were only trying to voice a freedom of speech and opinion about the creation of a shopping mall. It was completely unnecessary for the government to think that they needed to use tear gas and other weapons to fend off protesters.
This past Tuesday, President Abdullah Gul gave a speech at the United Nations General Assembly, praising the environmental concerns that the protesters had for the construction, but then suggested that the New York police would have responded the same way if the protesters had shut down the city center. Unless the protesters posed as a threat to the lives of police officers and government officials, there is no reason to enforce weaponry that could have long term effects on citizens. The Ministry of Health of Turkey also submitted a draft bill noting that any medical worker who assists the wounded without previous government authorization would be subject to consequences and potential imprisonment. This is another outrageous step taken by the government to have further control of the situation, months after the event took place.Hopefully a voice will be given to the Turkish people that are suffering from the protests several months ago. Threatening the medical workers who are doing their job may put an end to any emergency medical assistance for anyone in Istanbul. As of now, the bill has not been passed, but Parliament is set to reconvene sometime this month to discuss it. It would be unfortunate for those who were affected by the tear gas to continue to not have a voice against their government, and have to live in fear of their own right to speech.