Turkey’s foreign ministry on Sunday summoned the US ambassador to express its discomfort with an alert issued by the embassy warning of possible police intervention during an opposition demonstration in İstanbul at the weekend, according to Turkish media outlets.
The alert, published on the embassy website last Thursday, said the Turkish police had used water cannon, tear gas and non-lethal projectiles to control crowds at protests in the past and that there was a strong possibility similar measures would be employed at the main opposition rally in the Maltepe district of İstanbul scheduled for the evening of May 21.
Thousands gathered for the rally on Saturday to protest the conviction of Republican People’s Party (CHP) politician Canan Kaftancıoğlu for insulting the president and the state.
The foreign ministry sources said Ambassador Jeff Flake was told that there were unfounded claims in the US alert regarding measures taken by Turkish police during demonstrations.
“Avoid demonstrations and protests as they can be unpredictable and at times become violent,” the embassy said, also advising US citizens in İstanbul to avoid crowds, keep a low profile, avoid areas around protests and demonstrations, be aware of their surroundings and monitor local media for updates.
The right to freedom of assembly is one of the most violated rights in Turkey, with the police frequently breaking up demonstrations organized by women’s rights activists, LGBTIQ+ persons and environmentalists, among others.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government have received widespread criticism for the excessive force used by Turkish police at meetings and demonstrations.
According to a report recently drafted by Sezgin Tanrıkulu, a CHP lawmaker, prominent human rights activist and deputy chair of a parliamentary committee on human rights, Turkish police intervened in at least 45 demonstrations, public press statements and gatherings in April, detaining at least 288 and arresting four among those who attended the events.
At least 136 people were subjected to physical violence by the police at meetings and demonstrations held last month, the report further showed.