UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website] on Tuesday commended the Turkish government's decision to delay government construction that was the source of widespread protests in the past month, urging authorities to work to defuse tensions [press release]. The future of Gezi Park [JURIST news archive], a rare green space in Istanbul, will be established by a court decision subject to a referendum, in lieu of further police-protester confrontations. The proposed development of the park sparked conflict when the government decided to build over it. Some parties believed that rebuilding the historic park was politically motivated because it is viewed by some as a symbol of liberal values. At least four people died during the conflicts under a variety of circumstances. Pillay said:
The atmosphere is still clearly highly combustible ... and it is important that the authorities recognize that the initial extremely heavy-handed response to the protests, which resulted in many injuries, is still a major part of the problem. Because of that response, the scope of the protests broadened to include other aspects of governance, including those relating to fundamental human rights, such as freedom of assembly and freedom of opinion and expression.She urged authorities "to facilitate and protect peaceful gatherings and protests."
Pillay previously urged [JURIST report] Turkey to respect the right to assemble. Earlier this month Human Rights Watch [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 criticized Turkey for prosecuting activists [JURIST op-ed] 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].