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UN rights office urges Turkey to ensure right to assembly

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] on Tuesday urged [press release] the Turkish government to ensure the right of its citizens to assemble freely and in a peaceful manner. The OHCHR is responding to days of violent clashes between police and protestors. The protests began on Friday in Istanbul, before spreading elsewhere in Turkey, to voice citizens' discontent with plans to redevelop the historic Taksim square and Gezi park. There has been a high number of arrests, and many people have been injured as riot police used tear gas, pepper spray and water cannons against the peaceful protesters. This action in turn prompted attacks on authorities. OHCHR spokesperson Cecile Pouilly announced:

We are concerned about reports of excessive use of force by law enforcement officers against protestors who initially gathered to express their dissatisfaction with the redevelopment of the historic Taksim square—an important venue for political protests—and Gezi Park, and against others who joined demonstrations to support them throughout Turkey. We welcome the acknowledgment on the part of authorities that disproportionate force may have been used and their call for an investigation of law enforcement officers who are alleged to have broken the law and violated international human rights standards. Such investigations should be prompt, thorough, independent and impartial, and perpetrators should be brought to justice.
The OHCHR also encourages the authorities to begin a genuine dialogue with civil society, discussing the projects in Taksim square and Gezi park.

On Sunday Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] called on police [JURIST report] to use non-violent tactics with civilians. This outbreak of violence comes about one month after Turkey's Grand National Assembly approved amendments [BIA summary] to the country's anti-terrorism laws to bring them more in line with EU freedom of expression standards. In February the Council of Europe urged Turkey to move more quickly [JURIST report] in its efforts to reform the laws governing freedom of expression and anti-terrorism. In November the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) criticized Turkey for prosecuting activists [JURIST report] under the country's vague counterterrorism law. In March 2011 a spokesperson for the UN OHCHR urged Turkish officials to respect journalists' freedom of expression [JURIST comment].

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