A court Wednesday ordered the release of 31 Istanbul Airport construction workers detained since September after protesting their working conditions.
The first hearing of 61 workers and a trade unionist was held in Istanbul’s Gaziosmanpasa Courthouse and closed to members of the press.
Unjust treatment to the workers also continued in the court they have sought to justice after the construction site and prison. Workers were put on trial in the dining hall of the courthouse instead of a hearing room.
People who wanted to support the prosecuted airport workers at the courtroom were prevented by the police.
They are all accused of preventing police and gendarmerie from intervening in the protest, forcing or threatening others to stop or suspend work, damaging public and private property and participating in the protest with potentially harmful instruments prescribed by law, such as stones and sticks.
However, the indictment fails to describe or provide evidence of how each individual worker has committed each of the alleged crimes.
WHAT WAS INCLUDED IN THE INDICTMENT?
‘‘Demands of the workers have been deemed to be illegal’’: It is argued in the indictment that a group of 2,000 people gathered in the Akpınar campus located near the construction of the Istanbul Airport by using the working conditions as the reason, and started a slowdown strike, preventing other workers from commuting to work. The indictment claims that these actions are illegal.
‘‘Detained workers manipulated the crowd’’: It is claimed that persons mentioned in the indictment were actively involved in the demonstration marches during these protests, and manipulated the crowd. In addition, the indictment also asserts that the detained/prosecuted workers prevented the bus services and other workers trying to go to the construction site, and forced them to attend the protests.
‘‘They resisted against the gendarmerie attack’’: According to the indictment, the workers in the construction site harmed a military vehicle attempting to intervene in the protests, and they actively resisted against the law-enforcement forces.
‘‘Workers shouted slogans’’: The indictment also includes that workers shouted slogans during the police raids on their bunkhouses.
‘‘They formed a WhatsApp group’’: In the indictment, a Whatsapp chat group, which was created by the workers to communicate with each other, was considered a crime.
WHAT HAD HAPPENED?
In September, hundreds of workers walked off the job at Istanbul's new international airport in protest at poor conditions and work-related deaths on the site. AKP government cracked down, arresting hundreds. Most were released without charge. After the protests, 62 workers had been taken into custody, while the court had ruled that 31 of them would be jailed pending trial.
As some resources report that around 400 workers have been killed at the site since the beginning of the massive airport project, the AKP government had denied such reports and said that 27 workers died since the construction had begun in May 2015. However, the government recently admitted that "at least 52 workers" have died on the site since construction began in 2015.
The airport is one of a number of "mega-projects" of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The pro-government contractors had been forcing workers to work day and night under inhuman conditions to finish the project.