Turkish policeman gets 7 years in prison for death of Gezi Park protester

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A mask depicting the face of Ethem Sarisuluk, a 26-year-old protester killed in Ankara in June 2013 during clashes between police and anti-government protesters, hangs on a police barrier on September 3, 2014 as people demonstrate outside the courthouse in Ankara during the trial of Turkish police officer Ahmet Sahbaz, charged with the shooting that killed Sarisuluk. (Photo: AFP - Adem Altan)

Published Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Turkish policeman was jailed for seven years and nine months on Wednesday after being convicted of shooting dead a protester during 2013 anti-government protests.

The trial of Ahmet Sahbaz was seen as a crucial test of the authorities' willingness to prosecute police brutality under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The court found Sahbaz guilty of killing of 26-year-old Ethem Sarisuluk in Ankara last year during clashes between police and protesters.

The verdict sparked tumultuous scenes in the courtroom, with supporters of the victim shouting "murderer state" and slamming the judge for being too lenient.

"There is nothing more to say. The justice system bolstered the murder. This proves it is legitimate to kill people on the street," Sarisuluk's brother Mustapha told AFP.

"The murderer will be among us five years later," he said, anticipating an early release for Sahbaz. He said that the family would appeal the verdict.

The victims' supporters initially applauded the verdict when the court announced a life sentence for murder.

However, as is customary under Turkish law, Sahbaz received reductions to his sentence due to attenuating circumstances, as the court agreed he was provoked by the protesters.

Sarisuluk's supporters showed their derision by throwing bottles across the courtroom in Ankara.

Protesters gathered outside the courthouse where they shouted: "We are all Ethem!" and "Mothers' anger will drown the murderers."

Sarisuluk was one of at least eight protesters killed nationwide in the bloody police crackdown during 2013 protests against Erdogan's government.

At an emotionally-charged verdict hearing earlier, Sahbaz described how he had been pelted with stones by protesters and said he had been going through emotional turmoil since the killing.

"You cannot understand the fear, panic inside me since the trial began in September 2013," he told the court.

"I am a 28-year-old man trying to make a living. There can be no device that measures the storm inside me," he said.

His defense sparked uproar in the courtroom with the victim's sister shouting: "Do you remember you killed my brother, dog?"

Sahbaz said he fired two shots in the air and the third hit the protester because of the chaos at the scene.

"I was really upset when Ethem Sarisuluk died. When I heard he had died, I sat and prayed."

The protests began as a grassroots movement against plans to build a shopping mall on Gezi Park on Taksim Square in Istanbul, one of the rare green spaces in the center of the city.

But they quickly snowballed into mass demonstrations nationwide by mainly secular Turks angry at the authoritarian tendencies of Erdogan's Islamic-rooted government.

Footage of the killing that went viral on YouTube shows an armed and helmeted policeman ‒ allegedly Sahbaz ‒ firing three times with his service weapon at the protest before sprinting back to his lines.

On the third shot the victim ‒ said to be Sarisuluk ‒ crashes to the ground as fellow protesters cried for help. He died of his injuries a fortnight later.

"It is obvious from my movement that I am firing warning shots," Sahbaz said of the footage.
"And lifting my gun in the air. Think about the panic and the fear I had."

(AFP)

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