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Joint letter calls for release of 48 people arrested over May Day demonstrations

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More than 100 individuals well known in Turkish society have called for the release of 48 people who were arrested earlier this month after they resisted law enforcement on May Day in İstanbul, the Birgün daily reported.

Writers, journalists, lawmakers and others signed a letter in which they called for the release of the arrestees and said seeking to hold a May Day demonstration in İstanbul’s Taksim Square, which has symbolic importance, is not a crime.

Some 200 demonstrators who wanted to march from İstanbul’s Saraçhane neighborhood to Taksim Square to mark International Workers’ Day were detained on May 1. Demonstrators were also taken into custody in the following days on accusations that they resisted law enforcement to make their way to Taksim.

Forty-eight of the detainees were subsequently arrested. The others were released, some under judicial supervision.

The Interior Ministry and the İstanbul Governor’s Office announced before May Day that no demonstrations would be allowed in Taksim due to security concerns, sparking a backlash from opposition parties, labor unions and civil society groups who said the ban was “unconstitutional.”

The signatories of the letter called on the government to comply with a Constitutional Court decision last year that found violations of the right to free assembly in the controversial ban in addition to Article 34 of the Turkish Constitution, which says, “Everyone has the right to hold unarmed and peaceful meetings and demonstration marches without prior permission.”

The letter was launched by the “Hepsini Alacağız” (We will get them all back), a group established in solidarity with the May Day arrestees.

They said the 48 people should be released from pre-trial detention immediately.

The signatories of the letter include opposition lawmakers Hüseyin Olan and Mehmet Zeki İrmez; journalists İsmail Arı, Hakkı Özdal and İbrahim Varlı; musicians Haluk Çetin and Haluk Tolga İlhan; writers Özge Doğan and Sezai Sarıoğlu; actor Orhan Alkaya; and translator Necmiye Alpay.

The symbolic importance of Taksim Square stems from the killing of 34 people by unknown assailants on May Day in 1977. The area has become a subject of tension and confrontation between the government and labor unions in the days leading up to May Day since 2013.

Until 2009, Taksim was off limits to demonstrators following Bloody May Day in 1977. About three decades after the incident, under tight security, Taksim Square became the venue of peaceful demonstrations aside from a few minor incidents in 2010, 2011 and 2012. The area was closed to demonstrations again in 2013 out of security concerns.

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