Saturday Mothers/People came together for the first time on May 27, 1995. For the past 26 years, they are leading a struggle demanding to know the whereabouts of the enforced disappearances under custody, to put perpetrators on trial and stopping enforced disappearances.
It is estimated that 1,352 people disappeared while under custody since the September 12, 1980 military coup. The period in which most enforced disappearances took place between the years 1993-95 coincides with the creation of Saturday Mothers/People. İnsan Hakları Derneği (İHD- Human Rights Association) started a campaign in 1992 with the slogan "The disappeared must be found". This campaign turned into a vast demand for justice movement in 1995, with the momentum Saturday Mothers/People brought.
The first disappearance on the agenda of Saturday Mothers/People, who gather every Saturday at noon at Galatasaray Square in Istanbul for a peaceful sit-in, was Hasan Ocak. Hasan Ocak was arrested on March 21, 1995, following the Gazi Neighborhood attacks between March 12-15. After the relentless search his mother, Emine Ocak, and relatives for 55 days, Ocak’s body was found on May 15, 1995 at a cemetery for the nameless. He was severely tortured before being killed.
When Ocak was found, with the support of İHD campaign, the search quickly turned into a human rights struggle demanding justice for the disappeared. For the first sit-in staged on May 27, 1995, a group of 15-20 people gathered at Galatasaray Square. The group announced their demands: "Disappearances under custody must stop, whereabouts of the disappeared must be known, perpetrators must be found and put on trial".
With time, the protest started to attract more and more people, sometimes close to thousands. Every week, they shared the story of a disappeared, and they demanded to know what happened to them. Starting in August of 1998, the police started to intervene these protests with batons and tear gas, and to arrest protesters. After a yearlong struggle with the police, on March 13, 1999, Saturday Mothers/People announced that they will be suspending the protests.
Their reunion had to wait for 10 years. They were once again at Galatasaray Square in January 31, 2009. Bandista (music band) released a song ‘Benim Annem Cumartesi’ (My Mother, Saturday) that year. The United Nations “International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance” was signed in 2007 and put into effect in 2010. Turkey is still not a party to this convention.
International Hrant Dink Prize in 2013 was awarded to Saturday Mothers/People.
Justified by the security risks following the Istanbul bomb attacks in 2015 and 2016, Saturday Mothers/People had to be encircled by a police cordon at the square. Protesters had to go through a security check before joining the sit-in.
There was a call for support for the 700th vigil on August 25, 2018. The group gathering in the morning of the 25th, met with a written ban to gather at the square, signed by the Beyoğlu District Governor. Saturday Mothers/People, İHD members and executives, and other supporters had to endure a police intervention with pressured water, plastic bullets and tear gas. 47 people were arrested, to be released after 8 hours. Minister of Interior Süleyman Soylu accused Saturday Mothers/People of undertaking “efforts to legitimize terrorist organizations” and “being the spokesperson of terrorist organizations”, just a couple hours before the İHD İstanbul Office press statement on August 27, 2018.
The ban against Saturday Mothers/People continues since the 700th week. They were not allowed to stage sit-ins and Galatasaray Square was closed with police barricades. The group that wanted to march towards the square on the 701st week was stopped by the police. The sit-in was staged at Büyükparmakkapı Street. Since the 702nd week, Saturday Mothers/People meet in front of the İHD İstanbul Office. They have been denied access to Galatasaray Square since then.
PEN Duygu Asena Prize in 2019 was awarded to Saturday Mothers/People.
The indictment prepared by the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office of Terrorist Crimes Investigation Bureau was accepted by the Istanbul Criminal Court of First Instance and a lawsuit was filed against the Saturday People on 18 November 2020. There are relatives of the disappeared, İHD executives and members among the 46 people who were sued. In the indictment, in accordance with Article 32/1 of the Law on Meetings and Demonstrations, a prison sentence of up to 3 years is requested.
The first hearing of the case was held on March 25, 2021. The Saturday People made a press statement in front of the Istanbul Courthouse in Çağlayan before the hearing. Due to high participation, the hearing was held in Istanbul 33rd High Criminal Court instead of Istanbul 21st Criminal Court of First Instance. At the hearing, the statements of the defendants and the defense of their lawyers were received, the request for acquittal was repeated. Following the statements, the prosecutor asked the unheard witnesses to be heard and the defenses to be completed.
The second hearing on 12 July 2021 was held at the 27th High Criminal Court, which is larger due to the small size of the 21st Criminal Court of First Instance. At the hearing, which started at 12.30 with a delay of two and a half hours, the defenses began after the identifications were made. However, after the defendants and their lawyers were interrupted and the protesting deputy Mahmut Tanal was removed from the hall, the lawyers demanded a judge for refusal. This request was denied. Upon the lawyers reminding the law, the president of the court finished the hearing and postponed it to 24 November 2021.
Prior to the hearing on 24 November, the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales and the Global Campaign for Freedom of Expression presented an “Expert Opinion on International Human Rights and the Right to Protest” on the Saturday Mothers/People case. In the opinion, it was emphasized that the state cannot limit to silence, discourage or punish those who exercise their right to freedom of assembly or expression as regulated in Article 11 of the ECHR, because of the views they try to express peacefully. It was said that "If there is no right to peaceful demonstration, there is no democracy". Before the third hearing on November 24, 2021, a press release was made in front of the courthouse. At the hearing, all requests of the lawyers, including immediate acquittal, were denied and the case was adjourned to March 23, 2022.
In the fourth hearing, it was decided that Hasan Akbaba, Osman Akın, Atakan Taşbilek, Mehmet Günel, Koray Çağlıyan, Murat Akbaş, Can Danyal Aktaş, Ercan Süslü and Lezgin Özalp be held separately from the hearings in line with their demands. The next hearing will be held on September 21, 2022.
Saturday Mothers/People wanted to hold the 900th week vigil on 25 June 2022 in Galatasaray Square again, with the motto "Let the missing be found, let the losers be prosecuted". The entrance to the square, which was prohibited by the governor's office, was not allowed once again. The police detained many people. Among those detained were İHD co-chairs Eren Keskin and Öztürk Türkdoğan. Those detained in the evening were released.
A group of rights defenders, including the Saturday People, announced that on 30 August 2022, on the occasion of the International Day of the Enforced Disappearences a press statement will be held in Altınşehir Cemetery of the Nameless in Istanbul Küçükçekmece. The police intervened in the crowd gathered here. 14 people, including Saturday People's Maside Ocak, Hüseyin Ocak, Ali Ocak, Besna Tosun, Hanım Tosun, Hasan Karakoç, Hanife Yıldız, Gülseren Yoleri, Hüseyin Aygül and Ferit Barut, were detained. The detainees were released after their statements taken and undergoing medical examination.
The press release to be held in front of the Istanbul Courthouse in Çağlayan, before the hearing on September 21, 2022, was banned. 16 people from the Saturday People and human rights defenders were detained. The detainees were released in the evening after their statements were taken.
Saturday Mother, Maside Ocak, had brought the police attack in the 700th week (25 August 2018) to the Constitutional Court (AYM). While the Constitutional Court rejected the allegation of "ill-treatment" in February 2023, it ruled that the right to hold meetings and demonstrations, regulated in Article 34 of the Constitution, was violated. Maside Ocak decided to pay 13,500 TL for non-pecuniary damage.
Even after the decision, the police intervened the Saturday People who wanted to carry out their protests in Galatasaray Square in the 941st and 942nd weeks. Dozens of people were detained for two weeks in a row. The detainees were released the same day after the health check and police procedures.
In April 2023, another lawsuit was filed against the Saturday People for "not dispersing despite a warning by attending unlawful meetings and marches" because of the press briefing they wanted to hold at Altınşehir Orphan Cemetery on 30 August International Day of Enforced Disappearances, a year earlier. The proceedings of the case brought against Saturday Mothers/People will begin on May 4, 2023 at the Küçükçekmece 1st Criminal Court of First Instance.
The Constitutional Court has given another right violation decision regarding the police attack on the Saturday People's 700th week protest. In the application of Human Rights Association (İHD) Istanbul Branch President Gülseren Yoleri, the Constitutional Court unanimously ruled that the right to hold meetings and demonstrations was violated, and found the complaint regarding the violation of the ban on ill-treatment unacceptable. In its decision dated March 29, the Constitutional Court ruled that the right to hold meetings and demonstrations, regulated in Article 34 of the Constitution, was violated.
However, despite this second decision, the police intervened in the Saturday People in week 945 as well. 23 rights defenders, including Şebnem Korur Fincancı, Ümit Efe, Meryem Göktepe and Nimet Tanrıkulu, were detained. The detainees were released the same day.
The detentions continued in the following weeks. Rights defenders who came for solidarity and took part in the police blockade were also detained. At the meeting on 20 May, it was seen that the police and police car bears on duty in Galatasaray Square, violence against the press increased. At the 20 May 2023 gathering, 13 people from the Saturday People and rights defenders were detained and released on the same day.
On the occasion of the International Day of the Enforced Disappearances, 14 people, who were detained and prosecuted while making a press statement at Altınşehir Orphan Cemetery, were acquitted at the hearing on May 26, 2023.
Ferit Şenyaşar, who was elected as a 28th term deputy from the Green Left Party, submitted a research proposal to the Grand National Assembly of Turkey on 23 June 2023 regarding the struggle of the Saturday People, to investigate the fate of the enforced disappearances since 12 September 1980, to cover up all the unsolved murders. demanded the establishment of an investigative commission to expose public officials and prosecute the perpetrators and those responsible.
It turned out that the ban decision for the 953rd week meeting on July 1, 2023 was given by proxy. The District Governor of Şişli signed the ban decision instead of the Beyoğlu District Governor, who was on leave. Despite the provisions of the regulation, it was not stated separately that the signature was put by proxy in the ban decision.
The Human Rights Branch of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB), the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV) and the Human Rights Association (İHD) issued a statement on July 25, 2023. They evaluated Saturday Mothers/People's waiting in closed police buses for long hours on days when global temperature records were broken as a violation of the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment.
Lawyers of Saturday Mothers/People filed a criminal complaint against the police chiefs and police officers who ordered their detention in the 943rd week. The preliminary investigation against the police officers was completed in 29 days. The report stated that the action in question was banned based on the order published by the Istanbul Governorship on November 24, 2022, "concerning the measures to be taken to protect security, peace and order on Istiklal Street after the terrorist attack, and to accelerate the current pedestrian traffic flow", and it was claimed that rights defenders "insisted not to disperse despite the warning." The governorship did not allow an investigation into police chiefs and police officers. The prosecutor's office also ruled that there was no need to conduct an investigation.
Green Left Party Diyarbakır Deputy Serhat Eren submitted another research proposal to the Parliament in September 2023 to determine the rights violations in the Saturday Mothers/People protest, to establish truth and investigation commissions regarding enforced disappearances, and to reveal the fate of the forcibly disappeared.
That same month, a new lawsuit was filed against the Saturday Mothers/People. The investigation opened against Ali Ocak, Ali Tosun, Besna Tosun, Cüneyt Yılmaz, Hanife Yıldız, Hasan Karakoç, Hatice Korkmaz, Hünkar Hüdayı Yurtsever, İkbal Yarıcı, İrfan Bilgin, İsmail Yücel, Leman Yurtsever, Maside Ocak Kışlakçı, Meryem Bars, Mikayil Kırkbayır, Mukaddes Şamiloğlu, Oya Meriç Eyüpoğlu, Saime Sebla Arcan, Selvi Gülmez and Ümmügülsüm Aylin Tekiner regarding the 950th week meeting, turned into a lawsuit under the "Law on Meetings and Demonstrations No. 2911, Article 32/1 and Article 53 of the TCK No. 5237". The first hearing of the case will be held at the Istanbul 39th Criminal Court of First Instance on February 27, 2024.
At the 954th weekly meeting on July 8, 2023, 31 relatives of the disappeared and rights defenders were detained, and journalists were subjected to ill-treatment by the police. Ali Hıracı, one of the police officers, filed a complaint about what happened in this action, claiming that Murat Çelik, the lawyer of the relatives of the disappeared and rights defenders, injured him. Murat Çelik was beaten and detained with handcuffs behind his back that day. Following Police Hıracı's complaint, the Istanbul Chief Prosecutor's Office launched an investigation against 31 people, but a decision of non-prosecution was given on September 19, 2023.
The police intervened in the 968th week statement and handcuffed Besna Tosun and Newroz Tosun, who asked about the fate of their father Fehmi Tosun, who disappeared in custody, by bending their arms in front of the cameras. The police applied handcuffs to Newroz Tosun and tried to force his head down. Reacting to the situation, Besna Tosun had six handcuffs placed on her wrist. Saturday Mothers/People filed a criminal complaint, stating that they were subjected to police violence while being detained.
The statements of the defendants continued to be taken at the hearing of the case filed at the Istanbul 21st Criminal Court of First Instance regarding the 700th week gathering on November 3, 2023. The court decided to continue Cihan Gülünay's judicial control condition and to complete the defenses of the defendants whose defense statements were not taken and postponed the hearing to April 5, 2024.
At the 971st week gathering on November 4, 2023, Saturday People and rights defenders were again under police blockade, but unlike previous weeks, they were not detained.
On November 11, 2023, Saturday Mothers/People gathered in Galatasaray Square for the first time in approximately 5.5 years and were able to make a statement without intervention. HEDEP Şanlıurfa Deputy Dilan Kunt Ayan showed the photographs of the Saturday Mothers/People and the relatives of the missing being handcuffed and detained to the Minister of Internal Affairs Ali Yerlikaya at a commission meeting in the Turkish Grand National Assembly the same week. In response, the Minister said, "What they are experiencing is a grievance. We will find a solution as soon as possible." After this statement, 10 people were allowed to gather in Galatasaray Square on the first Saturday.
EP Turkey Rapporteur Nacho Sanchez Amor watched the 975th week meeting as an observer and made a press statement at İHD afterwards. "I am here to express my solidarity with the Saturday Mothers/People," said Amor, emphasizing that he was in Turkey to demand compliance with the decisions of the Constitutional Court (AYM). The rapporteur said that there were "many human rights violations" that he could observe in Turkey, but that he chose the Saturday Mothers/People consciously: "I am with the Saturday Mothers because they show absolute insistence and will. Because standing with the Saturday Mothers, solidarity with the Saturday Mothers, means defending the rule of law and defending human rights."
Tahir Elçi Human Rights Foundation's 2nd Human Rights and Freedom Award was given to Saturday Mothers/People at the ceremony held on January 20, 2024.
At the first hearing of the case filed at the Istanbul 39th Criminal Court of First Instance on February 27, 2024, defenses began after the identification and reading of the indictment. The case continued in the hall of the Istanbul 14th High Criminal Court after a break due to the physical inadequacy of the hall. The lawyers stated that the elements of the crime were not present and demanded the acquittal of their clients. Announcing its interim decision, the court postponed the hearing to 7 June 2024 at 14:00 to eliminate the missing statements and issues.
Names of those prosecuted:
Adil Can Ocak, Ahmet Karaca, Ahmet Süleyman Belli, Ali Icak, Ali Yiğit Karaca, Atakan Taşbilek, Ataman Doğa Kıroğlu, Ayça Çevik, Besna Tosun, Cafer Balcı, Can Danyal Aktaş, Cihan Oral Gülünay, Cüneyt Yılmaz, Deniz Koç, Ercan Süslü, Ezgi Çevik, Faruk Eren, Fecri Çalboğa, Ferhat Ergen, Gamze Elvan, Hakan Koç, Hasan Akbaba, Hasan Karakoç, Jiyan Tosun, Kenan Yıldızerler, Koray Çağlıyan, Koray Kesik, Leman Yurtsever, Levent Gökçek, Lezgin Özalp, Maside Ocak, Mehmet Günel, Muhammed Emin Ekinci, Murat Akbaş, Murat Koptaş, Onur Yanardağ, Osman Akın, Özer Oysam, Özge Elvan, Ramazan Bayram, Rüşa Sabur, Sadettin Köse, Saime Sebla Arcan Tatlav, Sinan Arslan, Ulaş Bedri Çelik, Volkan Uyar.