Press release

Turkey: Detention of Saturday Mothers Represents Arbitrary, Unlawful Crackdown on Peaceful Dissent

The persecution of a group that draws attention to forced disappearances demonstrates Turkish authorities’ rejection of their obligation to protect fundamental freedoms.

In response to the June 25, 2022, intervention by the Turkish police in the 900th peaceful vigil by the Saturday Mothers group, which draws attention to forced disappearances in Turkey, Freedom House issued the following statement:

“Saturday’s actions by the Turkish police to prevent the Saturday Mothers from their 900th weekly vigil highlighting continued impunity for the forced disappearance of family members and human rights violations in the country indicates the Turkish state’s complete rejection of its obligations to protect fundamental freedoms,” said Marc Behrendt, director of Europe and Eurasia programs at Freedom House. “The four-year-long ban on the Saturday Mothers’ vigils in Galatasaray Square and their criminal prosecution are further examples of the Turkish authorities’ arbitrary and unlawful crackdown on peaceful dissent. The authorities must stop their legal harassment of the Saturday Mothers, and meet their demands for justice that have been delayed far too long.”


Members of the Saturday Mothers, one of the longest-running peaceful protest movements in the world, have been holding peaceful vigils in Istanbul’s Galatasaray Square since 1995 to demand information on the whereabouts of their relatives who disappeared while in state custody during the 1980s and 1990s, and to demand accountability.

On June 25, 2022, riot police interfered with the 900th vigil of the Saturday Mothers in Galatasaray Square, detaining 16 human rights defenders including several relatives of victims of forced disappearances. They were released later the same day.

The Saturday Mothers have been denied access to Galatasaray Square since the Beyoğlu district governor banned the 700th vigil on August 25, 2018. Following that ban, protesters were  subjected to water cannons, rubber bullets, and tear gas by the police, and 47 were detained. Those detainees were charged with “refusal to disperse despite the warning and use of force” under Turkey’s Law on Meetings and Demonstrations. If found guilty, they face up to three years in prison. The next hearing in their trial will be held in Istanbul on September 21, 2022.

According to the Truth Justice Memory Center (HAHM), approximately 1,353 individuals have been victims of forced disappearances in Turkey at the hands of security forces and paramilitary groups. These disappearances occurred predominantly in the Kurdish region, in the southeast of Turkey.

Turkey is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2022, and Not Free in Freedom on the Net 2021.

Freedom House is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to create a world where all are free. We inform the world about threats to freedom, mobilize global action, and support democracy’s defenders.