For second week, Turkish police block mothers' vigil for lost detainees

Each Saturday in central Istanbul, dozens of Turkish protesters gather to commemorate the memories of hundreds of lost relatives that have gone missing in police detention. As they have done for the past 23 years, on September 1, the group known as “Saturday Mothers” made their way towards a gathering point in Galatasaray Square at the heart of the city.

As they were about to stage their 701st demonstration seeking justice for relatives who disappeared in the 1980s and 1990s, Turkish riot police obstructed the path of some 300 participants with armored water cannon vehicles, reports Deutsche Welle.

This was the second week in a row that police targeted the sit-in, which is described as one of the world’s longest civil disobedience movements.

On August 25, as the group sat in silence, holding photographs of their missing relatives, police targeted the protesters with teargas and plastic pellets. Up to 47 people were arrested but were released by the end of the day(New York Times).

Police also assaulted reporters during the August 25 protest, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Those detained by the police included 80-something Emine Ocak, who has been attending the vigils regularly since her son disappeared in 1995 (New York Times).

The protests have been held to protest the forced disappearances and murders of hundreds of people after a military coup in 1980, and during the long-running Kurdish-Turkish conflict.

Andrew Gardner on Twitter

This photo says it all. Police block entire area to stop peaceful vigil of Saturday Mothers demanding accountability for their disappeared relatives. This is #Turkey one month after the lifting of the State of Emergency in the week of the International day of the Disappeared!

Turkey’s Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said authorities blocked the vigil because participants were trying to “mask terrorism through that victimization.” He accused the group of being linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

However, the demonstrators deny links to militant groups and said in a press conference that President Tayyip Erdogan once showed support for the vigils in 2012.

Critics say the targeting of the weekly vigil, one of the few remaining protests permitted near Galatasaray Square, is a sign of Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule.

During a two year-long state of emergency that was lifted in July, 77,000 people  – including journalists accused of links to a failed coup in 2016 – were charged and 150,000 civil servants were expelled from their positions, accused of links to terrorists.

Saturday Mothers gather on a side street that leads to Istiklal Street as they try to march to Galatasaray Square, where they meet every week, demanding to know the fate of their missing relatives, claimed to be last seen in the hands of security forces, in central Istanbul, Turkey September 1, 2018. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

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  • A look at whether the blocking of the Saturday Mothers event is a sign of increasing authoritarianism in Turkey under Erdogan
  • A report on the history and context of the Saturday Mothers demonstrations
  • A rolling report on the upcoming Saturdays and attitudes in Turkey towards the protest

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