KAYSERI (TURKEY), Feb 3: Four policemen went on trial amid tight security in Turkey today, accused of beating to death a 19-year-old student in the huge anti-Government protests that rocked the country last June.
The high-profile court case comes as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan battles his biggest crisis in 11 years in power, which has hit the economy and is threatening the strongman’s presidential ambitions.
Some 2,000 riot police were deployed in the central city of Kayseri for the start of the trial, roads around the courthouse were blocked and demonstrations banned for “security” reasons.
Activists trying to get to Kayseri for the trial said that several buses carrying demonstrators were prevented from entering the city overnight and this morning.
The case centres on the death of Ali Islmail Kokmaz, who died after being pummelled with baseball bats and truncheons in the western city of Eskisehir on June 2, one of one of six people to perish as three weeks of protests convulsed the country of 76 million.
The attack was recorded by security cameras and the 19-year-old student, wearing a “World Peace” T-shirt, suffered a brain haemorrhage and died after 38 days in a coma.
Eight men, including four plain-clothes policemen, are accused of premeditated murder and face life in jail if convicted.
In an attempt to avoid fresh trouble, authorities moved the trial some 550 kilometres east of Eskisehir to Kayseri.
“My son will never come back but I want his killers punished,” the dead student’s mother Emel Korkmaz told Turkish media, saying she would attend the trial to “look them in the eye”.
More than 8,000 people were injured, the Turkish Medical Association says, during the protests in June that began as a peaceful sit-in against plans to build on a Istanbul park.
Erdogan called the demonstrators “vandals” and branded Twitter, used to organise protests, a “troublemaker”. Heavy-handed police tools included tear gas, plastic bullets and even live ammunition.
Amnesty International said there were “gross human rights violations” and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the time called the police response “much too harsh”. (AGENCIES)