Journalists hurt as police disperse Istanbul protest

Istanbul, May 31, 2013–At least two journalists were reported injured today as Turkish police trained water cannons and tear gas on peaceful protesters in the city’s central Taksim Square, according to news accounts and CPJ interviews.

“Istanbul police should be protecting people, not terrorizing them,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said from New York. “The extent of force used by police in Taksim Square should be fully investigated, as should the possibility that journalists could have been targeted.”

Scores of people were injured as police tried to disperse a week-long protest that began with demonstrators camping out in the square’s Gezi Park to denounce government plans to demolish the park and build a shopping mall, news accounts said. By today, the protest had grown into a much wider demonstration against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government and policies seen as increasingly authoritarian, reports said.

Journalist Ahmet Şık, on assignment for the daily Birgün, was hit by a police tear gas canister while photographing law enforcement clashes with protesters, according to news accounts. Officials at Taksim İlkyardım Hospital told CPJ that Şık was being treated for a head injury and was in stable condition.

Şık has been among the many dozens of Turkish journalists who have been imprisoned in recent years because of their critical or unpopular views. Critics have cited the practice of jailing journalists as an example of a government that is intolerant of dissent.

Reuters reported that one of its photographers was among the injured. The news agency did not immediately name the photographer, but Hürriyet identified him as Osman Örsal and published a photo showing Örsal with heavy bleeding to his head. The circumstances and extent of his injuries were not immediately clear. Örsal has taken numerous, widely circulated photos of the protest, including an image showing police shooting tear gas at demonstrators.

A CPJ representative at the scene today saw police firing what appeared to be tear gas toward metro stations in an apparent attempt to prevent people from joining the protesters. Reuters reported that an Egyptian tourist was in a critical condition after being hit by a tear gas canister.

The Taksim Square demonstration follows other recent protests against government stances, including its policy on Syria and its attempts to curb personal liberties such as the public display of affection, Reuters reported.