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İstanbul governor’s circular on alcohol consumption in public places sparks outrage

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A recent circular issued by İstanbul Governor Davut Gül to ban alcohol consumption in public places has drawn the ire of critics.

The circular, titled “Sale of Alcohol and Consumption of Alcoholic Beverages,” was issued Aug. 17 and specifically calls for a ban on alcohol consumption on waterfronts and beaches and in parks and picnic and recreational areas.

The circular also provides penalties for violations. Those who “disturb the environment” by consuming alcohol can be fined up to 617 Turkish lira ($23.14).

The reason given for these “preventive measures” are incidents involving people under the influence of alcohol.

According to the governor’s office, the decision was prompted by complaints regarding disturbances to public order and the disruption of public peace and security within the province’s boundaries. The circular claimed that those causing such disturbances were often found to be under the influence of alcohol. The governor alleged that individuals consuming alcohol in public spaces created an atmosphere of fear and panic among citizens, leading to the need for action.

However, existing regulations do not explicitly prohibit public drinking, as long as it does not disturb bystanders or cause public disturbances. This has led to a debate about the legal basis for the circular’s directives.

Critics argue that such measures infringe on personal freedoms and interfere with the way of life in society. The İstanbul Bar Association took legal action against the circular, filing a petition with an administrative court to halt its implementation. The bar association’s statement claimed that the circular encroached on the privacy of personal lives, as protected by Article 20 of the Constitution and Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) also entered the fray, with its parliamentary group chairman Özgür Özel strongly opposing the governor’s circular. Özel said the party would stand up for citizens’ rights and freedoms, asserting that a ban on alcohol consumption in public places would violate the constitution, secularism and the respect for diverse ways of life.

Journalists, activists and citizens have taken to X, formerly known as Twitter, to voice their opinions. Frederike Geerdink, a journalist, quoting her colleague Aslı Aydıntaşbaş, commented that the ban appeared to allow alcohol consumption only for the affluent while prohibiting it for others.

Another user, Can Okar, criticized the decision, labeling it as a cultural and ideological attack.

The circular comes amid a series of other stringent alcohol-related measures in Turkey. The government has previously prohibited liquor shops from selling alcoholic beverages after 10 p.m., and the tax rates on alcoholic drinks have significantly increased over the years.

Turkey has implemented an approach involving high taxation on alcoholic beverages and tobacco products. The government introduced a significant increase in the Special Consumption Tax on these items in early 2022, leading to higher prices. These taxes are deemed by many in Turkey as excessively punitive. As most people’s incomes are not sufficient to afford alcohol, many turn to bootleg alcohol. Turkish media reported 84 people died of bootleg alcohol in December 2021 alone, before the prices shot up.

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