Turkey’s top court ruled that a violent police attack on a woman during an anti-government protest in 2013 was not a violation of ill-treatment prohibition of the Turkish Constitution, pro-government Dogan (DHA) news agency reported on Wednesday.
The Turkish Constitutional Court (AYM) ruled by a majority vote that the attack by police officer Fatih Zengin on Ceyda Sungur, who became an icon of the 2013 Gezi Park protests, was not ill-treatment pursuant to Article 17 of the Constitution.
Known as the Lady in Red, Sungur became a symbol of the Gezi Park protests with an image of her hair billowing upwards as the policeman pepper-sprayed her in the face at close range.
A camera shot the officer many times as he was less than one meter away from her, targeting Sungur’s face with the chemical agent without warning. The police even carried on spraying the gas after Sungur had turned her head.
Zengin was found guilty of misconduct by the Istanbul 73rd Criminal Court of First Instance in 2015. The court handed down a suspended sentence of 20 months in jail, which he would serve only if he repeated the offense in the next five years. He was, however, ordered to plant 600 trees and to look after them for six months.
Sungur appealed the court’s decision before the AYM, claiming that the police’s treatment violated Article 17 of the Constitution.
“The physical integrity of the individual shall not be violated except under medical necessity and in cases prescribed by law; he shall not be subject to scientific or medical experiments without his consent. No one shall be subjected to torture or ill-treatment; no one shall be subject to penalty or treatment incompatible with human dignity,” Article 17 reads.
Gezi protests mark a turning point for crackdown on dissidents
The protests began as a bid to stop the proposed demolition of the Gezi Park, one of the last green spaces in Istanbul’s Beyoglu district. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) planned to replace the park with an Ottoman-style shopping mall, a project pushed personally by then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan’s uncompromising stance and a heavy-handed police crackdown on protesters sparked countrywide demonstrations, turning an environmental movement into a revolt against increased authoritarianism.
The Gezi Park protests took a heavy human toll. Eight people died, with at least four due to police violence according to the Turkish Doctors’ Organization. Some 8,000 were injured.
The Gezi demonstrations made the AKP government agree on not to build the planned shopping center. Erdogan, however, launched a crackdown on his dissidents who had openly supported the protests. Some lost their jobs, while others faced criminal charges, with hundreds still standing trial.