Turkish Tekel workers subjected to police violence face 8 years in prison

The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office has filed a lawsuit against 111 Tekel workers for breaking the law regulating protests, leaving them facing eight years in prison after being clubbed and pepper-sprayed by police.

Thousands of workers with the country’s former state-owned alcohol and tobacco monopoly, or Tekel, demonstrated last year in protest of a government change to their working conditions that they said would restrict their employment rights.

One of the figures involved in the case is former Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions, or DİSK, Chairman Süleyman Çelebi, who was an active part of the protests and is currently a deputy candidate for the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, in the June general election.

Commenting on the protests and the case, the CHP leader said such incidents were normal under the rule of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

The formal criminal charge prepared by prosecutor Abdulvahap Yaren said permission was not given for the protest by officials, and that the protesters from various provinces who met in Ankara had been warned against gathering.

The protest took place despite warnings on April 1, 2010. Demonstrators were warned again during the protest, but did not back down. The prosecutor’s report also claimed that one protester, Şükriye Ercan, had attacked police officers with a fire extinguisher, prompting the police to intervene.

A total of 111 protesters now face between three years and six months and eight years in prison.

In addition to Çelebi, the suspects include current DİSK head Tayfun Göngür; former Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions, or KESK, heads İsmail Hakkı Tombul and Sami Evren; Turkey Communist Party, or TKP, leader Erkan Baş; Gıda-İş chief Mustafa Türkel, Eğitim-Sen chief Zübeyde Kılıç; and Çiçek Otlu, who had her independent deputy candidacy canceled this week by the Supreme Election Board, or YSK.

The trial is normal procedure for the AKP, said CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, adding that “student protesters who wanted free education have been in prison for 14 months. This is not democracy.”

Çelebi also spoke to NTV on Thursday, saying the case shows the pressure the people are under. “This case is not right, it’s not legal,” he said. “We were the ones beaten, and we are the ones that have to pay for it. This is not right. But I am proud to stand trial in this case.”

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