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Istanbul Gezi Park 'terror' trial underway

June 24, 2019

The 16 defendants stand accused of "attempting to overthrow the government" and organizing protests in 2013. If convicted, they could receive life sentences without the chance for parole.

Against the smoky white backdrop of tear gas, a Turkish man waves a bright red Turkish flag defiantly. (Photo: ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images

A landmark trial against 16 people accused of "organizing and financing" peaceful protests in 2013 and attempting to "overthrow the government" began in Istanbul on Monday.

Two of the accused — respected businessman and rights activist Osman Kavala, and prominent NGO worker Yigit Aksakoglu —  are been held in Istanbul's high-security Silivri prison, where the courthouse housing the trial is located. 

Kavala rejected the "irrational claims which lack evidence" in his opening statement to the court. 

"I was involved in projects contributing to peace and reconciliation. There is not a single piece of evidence or proof in the indictment that I prepared the ground for a military coup," Kavala told the court.

The 14 other defendants are at liberty. Some fled the country, such as lawyer Can Atalay, and Can Dundar — the former editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet newspaper, who has lived in exile in Germany since 2016.  

"At Gezi, people took to the streets to demand equality, freedom and justice," Atalay told Germany's dpa news agency. With the trial, the government is now trying to "rewrite history" and present the Gezi movement as a conspiracy and an attempted coup, he added.

Read more: Exiled Turkish journalist Can Dundar reunited with family in Germany after 3 years 

Fighting against the government

The protests began in 2013 as a peaceful environmentalist sit-in in Gezi Park — a small, green space in central Istanbul beside the city's famous Taksim Square — by people concerned about government plans to cut down trees to make space for a new shopping mall.

The peaceful demonstration then grew considerably into a nationwide anti-government movement following a brutal police crackdown

'Bogus prosecutions'

Amnesty International slammed the charges against the accused as "absurd" and "an egregious attempt to silence some of Turkey's most prominent civil society figures."

"The Gezi trial exemplifies Turkey's appalling record of bogus prosecutions and detention of people the government sees as its critics and enemies," said Hugh Williamson, Human Rights Watch.

The trial is expected to conclude on Tuesday, only its second day. 

kw/msh (AP, AFP, dpa)

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