In Turkey, since May 1995, relatives of people who “disappeared” in police custody have been holding a weekly vigil in central Istanbul, demanding that the authorities account for the fate of their loved ones. They are known as the ‘Saturday Mothers’, since they gather every Saturday at midday in front of Galatasaray High School in Istiklal Street, holding pictures of their “disappeared” sons, daughters, husbands, wives, fathers, brothers.
During this time, many participants have faced intimidation, harassment, excessive use of force, arbitrary detention and unjust prosecution. In 1999, the organizers decided to stop holding the weekly vigils, which resumed in 2009 to continue with their demand for truth, justice and reparations for all cases of enforced disappearance.
When they met for the 700th time on 25 August 2018, organisers were approached by the police who told them that they must disperse as the gathering had been banned by the district governor, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Interior. When participants refused to leave, the police dispersed the crowd by force using tear gas, water cannons and plastic bullets. 46 people including relatives of the disappeared are on trial for their participation in the vigil.
In June 2022, riot police prevented their 900th peaceful vigil by arresting participants, including well known human rights defenders and relatives of the disappeared.
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