Hundreds of thousands of people gathered on Saturday in Istanbul’s Maltepe Square for a political rally demanding human rights, freedoms and justice, organised by the main opposition Republican People’s Party, CHP.
The crowd demanded an end to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown on perceived opponents. “They will not succeed… we will win, we will win! Turkey is ready for change,” said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the CHP asking all parts of the society and politics to unite.
Demonstrators in the central district of Maltepe chanted songs and waved the opposition and national flags.
The object of the rally is Mrs Kaftancioglu, CHP’s Istanbul chapter, who was sentenced to just under five years in jail and is one of the strongest voices in it.
In 2019, she played a significant role in municipal elections in the city that saw the CHP take over the mayoralty, which had been held by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party and its Islamist predecessors for the last 25 years.
Turkey’s judicial independence has been in the spotlight in recent years, notably since a crackdown on the judiciary and other state bodies after an abortive 2016 coup and a switch to an executive presidency last year.
Protesters began arriving after noon at the megacity’s Maltepe district for the “Voice of the Nation” rally, a demonstration against an almost five-year sentence handed down by the country’s top court to the Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) Canan Kaftancıoğlu on charges of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and terror propaganda. OdaTV estimated attendance at 600K.
Heightened security measures were implemented around the Orhangazi City Park in Maltepe, T24 news site reported, including hundreds of riot police and barricades around the premises. Some protesters were seen wearing t-shirts with the image of Kaftancıoğlu.
A number of roads leading to the rally premises have been closed to traffic, according to Diken news site.
Originally scheduled to take place in northwestern Bursa province, the CHP rally was moved to Istanbul following the Kaftancıoğlu’s conviction, which may result in the standout party official’s political ban.
Demonstrators chanted songs and waved the opposition and national flags, as the families of Gezi park demonstrations took to the stage to salute the crowds, according to T24.
Addressing the crowds, CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu accused Erdoğan’s government of “’intimidating people through fear.’’
“Their only goal is to create an environment of fear and to benefit from this. They are trying to scare you, this nation, in order to maintain this system,” Diken cited the CHP leader as saying.
CHP’s Kaftancıoğlu has been targeted in numerous lawsuits after her key role in the party’s victory in the 2019 local elections when the secular centre-left party won both Istanbul and Ankara after more than two decades of conservative mayors. She may be followed by popular Istanbul CHP mayor Mr Ekrem Imamoglu, currently on trial for two separate cases of defamation, where a guilty verdict also carries a ban from politics.
The latest conviction against the CHP official is seen as another crackdown on Erdoğan opponents.
Turkey has been widely criticised in recent years for undermining the rule of law, particularly due to practices during a two-year emergency rule declared after a coup attempt in 2016. The country 117th among 139 countries in the 2021 Rule of Law Index, a measure of how the rule of law is perceived in countries around the world by the influential non-profit civil society organisation World Justice Project.
Press sources, PATurkey
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