Turkey: Caught up in the Gezi park protests

Hakan Yaman was attacked by police officers during the June 2013 protests in Istanbul, Turkey.© Amnesty International

Every December, to mark International Human Rights Day, hundreds of thousands of people around the globe take part in the world’s largest human rights event: Write for Rights. Ordinary people from all over the world face abuses to their human rights on a daily basis and we need your help to protect them. This year, we are writing letters, sending SMS messages, taking action online and hosting and participating in a variety of exciting events to demand that the rights of individuals are upheld. Hakan Yaman is one of our Letter Writing Marathon individuals. Read his story:

Hakan Yaman’s life changed forever when police officers attacked him during the June 2013 protests in Istanbul, Turkey.

Late in the evening on 3 June, Hakan Yaman was on his way home from his job as a minibus driver in Istanbul, Turkey. The atmosphere in the city was tense, after a weekend of huge protests that were met with widespread police violence.

On 30 May, police had used tear gas, beaten protesters and burned down their tents in Gezi Park in the city centre. People had been demonstrating against the threatened destruction of one of Istanbul’s few remaining green spaces.

Their cause, and the authorities’ abusive response, touched a nerve. Tens of thousands of protesters poured out onto the streets across Turkey in the following days. The authorities responded with yet more tear gas, violence and arrests.

Hakan, 37, was on his way home to his wife and two children when he passed a demonstration against the previous days’ police violence. Moments later, he was brutally attacked by police officers.

“First I was sprayed by water cannon,” he later told Amnesty. “Then I was hit in the stomach with a tear gas canister and fell. Around five police officers came over and began hitting me repeatedly on the head. One of them put a hard object into my eye and gouged my eye out.

“I heard one of them say ‘this one is finished, let’s completely finish him off’. They dragged me about 10 to 20 meters and threw me onto a fire. They left and I dragged myself out of the fire. I was taken to the hospital by some of the protesters.”

Hakan completely lost one eye, and 80% of his eyesight in the other. His cheekbone, forehead and chin were broken, his skull was fractured, and he had second degree burns on his back. “They thought I was a protester and they tried to kill me,” he told us.

What happened to Hakan was unusually brutal, but it was far from an isolated case of police violence. According to The Turkish Medical Association, by 10 July, more than 8,000 injuries during demonstrations had been reported. Strong evidence also links three people’s deaths to police violence.

Amnesty is calling on the Turkish authorities to prevent unnecessary violence against demonstrators or other members of the public. We are also calling for all allegations of ill-treatment during the Gezi Park protests to be effectively investigated, with those responsible being brought to justice.

Hakan’s life was changed forever by the attack. He has made a criminal complaint on the grounds of attempted murder. By the time WIRE went to print, the prosecutors had interviewed three riot police officers who denied any involvement.

Hakan can never drive a minibus again. “Our children have been really badly affected,” his wife, Nihal, told us. For the first few weeks, their youngest daughter was so shocked she didn’t speak to her dad at all. “Now she doesn’t leave his side,” Nihal says. “She constantly hugs her dad and kisses him.”