Police violence caught on video as Turkey celebrates Eid under lockdown

(Updates with new information on paragraphs 12-14)

Turkish police officers beating up and violently detaining several people for violating lockdown orders in three separate incidents in Istanbul and the northwestern Tekirdağ province were caught on video by passers-by on Monday, sparking protest on Turkish social media.

Turkey has spent the Eid al Fitr holiday, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, under a nationwide lockdown as the government increased restrictions aimed to further contain the coronavirus pandemic, to allow for normalisation in June.

In the video taken in Tekirdağ’s industrial centre Çorlu, officers are seen shouting at a family sitting in their front porch. Eight officers in total are visible in the video, harassing and dragging members of the Gültaş family, and eventually forcing them on the ground to handcuff them behind their backs.

The Tekirdağ Governorate issued a statement and announced that the officers suspected of using excessive force in the incident that happened on Sunday had been suspended, while the family had been fined for violating lockdown orders and would face charges of resisting arrest. Two members of the family, the statement said, had attempted to “lynch the police officers.”

Officers had hit with batons the family’s elderly members, as well as a woman with a physical disability, the neighbour that recorded and uploaded the video told news site Artı Gerçek.

“They looked like they had come here from another fight and were looking for an excuse,” the man said, adding that the officers threatened his mother, who was sitting in their front yard at the time, that he would be beaten and arrested if the video ever surfaced.

In another video that surfaced on Monday showing an incident in Istanbul’s Kadıköy district, officers are seen shouting at and slapping a delivery man, threatening to confiscate his moped. One of the officers is heard to say, “This is right because I decided so,” when the delivery man protests being slapped.

The incident happened on May 19, when the delivery man passed through a police checkpoint riding over the speed limit, according to a statement by the Istanbul Police Directorate released on Monday. The statement said the officer in question had been suspended and that the case would be investigated.

In the third incident in Istanbul’s Zeytinburnu district, officers are seen treating a young person roughly and forcibly handcuffing him behind his back. “He’s just a child,” a neighbour is heard shouting at the police. Other neighbours are heard protesting the rough treatment of a minor.

The police did not issue a statement on the third incident, however, several pro-government Twitter accounts defended the action, saying it had been justified.

“(The person) went outside with his car during a curfew. He did not stop when ordered to. One officer was almost run over. The chase went on for 25 minutes,” one Twitter user said. Others said there were two young men, who ran from the police because they were in violation of the curfew.

A wider discussion started as the videos went viral on Turkish social media, with new images emerging. One video reportedly recorded in Istanbul’s Eyüp district shows several people pursuing a young man.

“My client who left his home to buy bread was beaten up by night watchmen,” a lawyer wrote on Twitter. “Neighbours were subjected to violence as well when they went downstairs to intervene.”

Police officers were also seen beating up and violently detaining two people in the Kurdish-majority southeastern Şırnak province, in a video that doesn’t specify a date but shows at least one police officer wearing a medical mask.

In late April, police officers had fatally shot a Syrian teenager in the southern Adana province, after the boy tried to evade the officers because of the curfew that had been put in place for persons younger than 20 as part of Turkey’s pandemic measures.