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Monday, June 3, 2013

Add Tear Gas and Stir — Images of Police Brutality Fuel Anger in Turkey

Video posted on YouTube by the Turkish journalist Serdar Akinan showed police officers in Istanbul on Monday firing tear gas in the direction of protesters in Taksim Square.

As my colleague Sebnem Arsu reports, protests continued for a fourth day in major Turkish cities on Monday, one day after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed the unrest on what he called “lies” circulating on Twitter and other social networks.

While supporters of the protest movement clearly do not take the same dim view of social networks as Mr. Erdogan, it is true that, frustrated by the relatively sparse coverage of the demonstrations in the Turkish media, they have turned to the Web to share striking images of wounded protesters and police officers inflicting apparently gratuitous beatings, firing tear gas canisters and deploying pepper spray at close range.

Zeynep Tufekci, a Turkish sociologist who studies the interaction between technology and protest movements explained on her blog that what started as a relatively small protest against the destruction of Gezi Park, a green space in the center of Istanbul, escalated sharply after visual evidence of police brutality against the demonstrators spread online.

It was after the Gezi protesters were met with the usual combination of tear gas and media silence something interesting started happening. The news of the protests started circulating around social media, especially on Twitter and Facebook. I follow a sizable number of people in Turkey and my Twitter friends include AKP supporters as well as media and academics. Everyone was aghast at the idea that a small number of young people, trying to protect trees, were being treated so brutally.

Some of the most dramatic footage of the police attacking protesters was recorded and posted online by Serdar Akinan, a journalist who was fired from his job in 2011 for using Twitter to report on Turkish air strikes that killed 34 Kurdish civilians mistaken for militants. That catastrophe, Ms. Tufekci noted, was also “ignored by mainstream TV channels” in Turkey, until Mr. Akinan “bought his own plane ticket and ran to the region. His poignant photos of mass lines of coffins, published on Twitter, broke the story and created the biggest political crisis for the government.”

Aaron Stein, a British academic and blogger who has been documenting the protests in Istanbul, reported on Twitter that protesters had posted placards on the trees in Gezi Park with the names of the 34 Kurds killed in those airstrikes.

When tear gas was fired at the protesters last week, Mr. Akinan was there to capture the scene on video and published it online.

Video posted on YouTube by the Turkish journalist Serdar Akinan showed police officers firing water and tear gas at protesters trying to protect a park in Istanbul on Friday.

Stung by the prime minister’s dismissal of them as extremists and liars, the protesters also shared a series of video interviews in which they attempted to give their answers to the question, “Who are these people in Gezi Park?”

In a series of video interviews, Turkish protesters explained their motivation for wanting to defend Gezi Park in Istanbul.

Robert Mackey also remixes the news on Twitter @robertmackey.