Thousands of people across Turkey came out on Monday to celebrate Labor and Solidarity Day, or May Day, but the festivities were overshadowed by bans, police violence and the detentions of protestors and journalists.
Turkish riot police detained 192 people trying to reach İstanbul’s main Taksim Square for May Day demonstrations protesting economic hardship and the exploitation of labor.
The ban on May Day demonstrations in Taksim has been in effect for several years due to security concerns. Police closed all roads leading to Taksim Square with barricades and increased its presence in the area on Monday.
Taksim Square holds symbolic value for Turkey’s labor movement. During a 1977 May Day event, 34 people were killed there when shots were fired into the crowd from a nearby building. Representatives from HAK-SEN, a public servant labor union, were allowed to lay wreaths at the site.
HAK-SEN representatives also held a symbolic funeral prayer in the area for civil servants who they said are like the living dead due to the rising cost of living in the country, skyrocketing rents and low salaries.
Authorities indicated the Maltepe meeting area on İstanbul’s Anatolian side was the venue for celebrations where representatives from labor unions delivered speeches.
This year’s May Day celebrations are held two weeks before critical presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for May 14.
Confederation of Progressive Unions of Turkey (DİSK) Chairperson Arzu Çerkezoğlu, who delivered a speech in Maltepe, said Turks will make a choice between “despotism and freedoms” on May 14.
“We will rid ourselves of this system of evil together. Let’s make a promise together, will we eliminate the rule of the tyrants,” she told the crowd, referring to the rule of the Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) İstanbul provincial head Canan Kaftancıoğlu said May Day will be joyfully celebrated next year in Taksim Square under the rule of her party and its leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.
Kılıçdaroğlu, the joint presidential candidate of an opposition alliance, poses the greatest challenge to the two-decades-long rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Opinion surveys show Kılıçdaroğlu neck-and-neck with Erdoğan or winning against him in the presidential race.
Many labor unions expressed hope that this will be the last May Day that Taksim Square is closed.
In the predominantly Kurdish province of Diyarbakır, protestors also faced police intervention as they sought to march to Dağkapı Square, which was banned by the local authorities.
Some journalists were detained and were subject to police violence during Monday’s demonstrations as they tried to cover the event.
Journalist Zeynep Kuray, who was following the protestors trying reach Taksim Square, was forcibly detained by police although she said she was a journalist and doing her job, according to the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA).
The Confederation of Progressive Unions of Turkey (DİSK) Basın-İş also announced that journalists Sultan Eylem Keleş and Gencer Keten were also violently detained by the police during the demonstrations.
Haber takibi yapan gazetecilere polis şiddeti:
📌 Zeynep Kuray gözaltına alındı
📌 Gazeteciler Sultan Eylem Keleş Gencer Keten ve Hazar Dost polis tarafından darp edildi
Video Haber📺👇https://t.co/grMsrq9BcH pic.twitter.com/EM5Yrvah5e
— T24 (@t24comtr) May 1, 2023
The Turkish Journalists Union (TGS) tweeted that two other journalists, Bülent Kılıç and Hazar Dost, were also subjected to police violence in the Beşiktaş and Taksim neighborhoods of İstanbul.
The TGS called on the Turkish authorities to immediately release the detained journalists and to stop preventing them from doing their job.
Journalists in Turkey frequently face physical attacks and legal harassment due to their journalistic activities.
Turkey, which is among the top jailers of journalists around the world, ranked 149th among 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2022 World Press Freedom Index.