Türkiye: continued judicial harassment against members of Saturday Mothers/People and violent police interference in their vigils (joint communication)

The following is based on a communication written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and other UN experts to the Government of Türkiye on 27 December 2023. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public, giving the Government time to reply. Regrettably, the Government did not reply within this time frame. If a reply is received it will be posted on the UN Special Procedures communications database.

At the time of publication, the criminal case against the 46 peaceful protesters from the 700th week vigil organised by Saturday Mothers/People is still ongoing.

This is a shorter version of the original communication.

Read the full communication


Topic: the violent interference by the police with the peaceful weekly vigils organised by Saturday Mothers/People in Galatasaray Square, Istanbul, and the judicial harassment of human rights defenders taking part in these vigils.

Saturday Mothers/People (Cumartesi Anneleri/İnsanları) is a human rights group consisting of human rights defenders and relatives of victims of enforced disappearances and political killings during the 1980s and 1990s who gather for a peaceful vigil every Saturday at noon in Galatasaray Square, Istanbul. The group was the subject of a previous joint communication.


Background information

Saturday Mothers/People began gathering peacefully every Saturday in Galatasaray Square on 27 May 1995. Inspired by the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo movement in Argentina, participants in these vigils display photographs of their forcibly disappeared relatives to commemorate the victims of enforced disappearances and politically-motivated killings, and to call for the disclosure of their fate and whereabouts and an end to impunity for these crimes.

700th week vigil

On 25 August 2018, Saturday Mothers/People gathered for their 700th weekly vigil. This vigil was subject to a ban, pursuant to the Law on Assemblies and Demonstrations adopted in 1983 (Law no. 2911). The justification for this ban was that Galatasaray Square was not included on the list of lawful gathering places identified by this law.

The police violently dispersed the participants in this vigil, using tear gas and excessive force, and imposed a ban on further weekly gatherings. Criminal charges were also brought against 46 peaceful protesters, including human rights defenders, for allegedly violating the Law on Assemblies and Demonstrations.

The Constitutional Court of Türkiye delivered two judgements, dated 16 November 2022 and 29 March 2023 respectively, which held that the right to freedom of peaceful assembly of participants in the 25 August 2018 vigil had been violated when the vigil was violently dispersed by the police. Both judgements further held that the right to gather peacefully must be respected in a democratic society. Despite these Constitutional Court decisions, the criminal case against the 46 peaceful protesters charged in relation to the 700th week vigil is still pending before the Istanbul 21st Penal Court of First Instance.

In accordance with these judgements from the Constitutional Court, lawyers of Saturday Mothers/People requested for an immediate acquittal for all defendants. In the most recent hearing on 3 November 2023, the court of first instance rejected these acquittal requests. The next hearing is scheduled for 5 April 2024.

Subsequent vigils and police interference

On 8 April 2023, following the Constitutional Court’s decisions, Saturday Mothers/People gathered in Galatasaray Square for the first time since 2018 and continued their peaceful vigils. Since then, participants in these vigils have been regularly dispersed by police officers using excessive force.

The police have allegedly justified their interference in these vigils through the use of ban orders. The Beyoğlu district police requested that these vigils be banned due to alleged concerns about safety and public security, and these requests were approved by the district governor, despite a lack of evidence establishing the risk to public order posed by these vigils.

When participants would begin to gather for the vigils, police would immediately surround them and form a “security circle” using riot shields. Police would then announce the ban on the gathering without giving participants sufficient time to disperse from the gathering spot before handcuffing and arresting some participants.

The use of force against human rights defenders and participants in these peaceful vigils has reportedly intensified over time. On 8 July 2023, while participating in a vigil, human rights defender and lawyer Murat Çelik fell to the ground and was kicked by police officers, including in the head, before being handcuffed and forced into a police bus.

Human rights defenders and siblings Besna and Ali Tosun, children of forcibly disappeared Fehmi Tosun, have also repeatedly been subject to ill-treatment during these peaceful vigils. On 14 October 2023, they were both subjected to reverse handcuffs by the same police officer who allegedly acted with the intent to cause them harm.

Reportedly, 26 people, including relatives of forcibly disappeared people and human rights defenders, were detained during the 969th week vigil on 21 October 2023 and 28 people were detained during the following week’s vigil on 28 October 2023.

The lawyers of Saturday Mothers/People have filed numerous criminal complaints against the police officers involved for their excessive use of force in dispersing the protesters, which they believe may amount to torture or ill-treatment. The Istanbul Governor’s Office has only responded to one of these complaints, on 13 July 2023, and denied authorisation for the opening of a criminal investigation against the police officers involved.

On the 971st weekly vigil held on 4 November 2023, and for the following two weeks, participants and human rights defenders were not detained during the gatherings. However, their right to freedom of peaceful assembly was still interfered with, as the police continued to form a “security circle” around them. On 11 November 2023, they were prevented from gathering in Galatasaray Square, which was reportedly surrounded by police barricade. On 18 November 2023, they were only permitted to gather in front of the barricade surrounding the square and were subjected to heavy police inspection.


In the communication, we express our serious concern at the continued judicial harassment against members of Saturday Mothers/People for exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly. We express further concern at the continued violent interference by the police in their weekly vigils which, if proven to be true, would constitute a violation of their right to freedom of peaceful assembly and their right to freedom of expression, including the right to seek information about the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones and their right to know the truth.


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