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Turkey puts 200 suspected military coup plotters on trial amid heavy security

ANKARA Turkey put on trial 200 suspects on Monday including senior military officers accused of plotting and orchestrating last year’s failed coup, in a court case where prosecutors are calling for life sentences.

The defendants, among them President Tayyip Erdogan’s aide-de-camp, the former head of Turkey’s air force, and dozens of generals, colonels and majors, were paraded on their way to court past dozens of protesters who demanded the death penalty and threw nooses towards them.

Around 1,500 security personnel were deployed for security at the trial, state-run Anadolu news agency reported, which was held in a purpose-built courthouse in Sincan on the outskirts of the Turkish capital.

More than 240 people, many of them civilians, were killed in the failed coup on July 15, 2016, when a group of rogue soldiers commandeered tanks, warplanes and helicopters, bombing the parliament and attempting to overthrow the government.

Those on trial in Sincan included core suspects behind the coup who raided the state broadcaster and forced the presenter to read out an announcement saying the army had taken over and Turkey was being run by a committee they called “Peace at Home”.

Erdogan blames Fetullah Gulen, a U.S.-based cleric and a former ally, and his global network for orchestrating the coup, a charge Gulen denies . Turkish authorities have arrested nearly 50,000 people over alleged links with the preacher.

At the start of the hearing, families of the victims attending the trial screamed at the defendants, and one woman in the courtroom, whose son was killed during the coup, broke down.

“Kill these traitors, the murderers of my son,” she screamed before fainting . The judge called for a medical team to be brought into the courtroom.

From a total of 221 defendants, more than 200 are from the military and more than half of those were officers who held ranks from captains up to generals . All but 12 of the suspects, who are still at large, appeared in court . Gulen, who is among the defendants, is among those being tried in absentia.

Following confirmation of the suspects’ identity and the reading of a summary of the roughly 2,000-page indictment, suspects will be able to put forward their defence.

Hearings at the trial, one of the largest of several coup-related trials taking place across Turkey, are expected to last until June 16.

Citing the coup attempt as a grave threat to the state, Turkish authorities have also sacked or suspended around 150,000 civil servants, teachers, judges, prosecutors, police and soldiers and have shut down around 150 media outlets.

While the detentions may have been supported by some Turks in the immediate aftermath of the abortive putsch, criticism mounted as arrests widened to include groups of which many deny any connection to Gulen.

Many relatives of those detained or sacked since July say they have nothing to do with the armed attempt to overthrow the government, and are victims of a purge designed to consolidate Erdogan’s control.

(Writing by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Dominic Evans and Raissa Kasolowsky)

Airport shooting reignites security debate before French election

PARIS Police questioned and then released relatives of a man shot dead at a Paris airport, as investigators sought clues on why he attacked an army patrol in an incident that has pushed security to the forefront of France’s election campaign.

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said late on Saturday that the man, named as 39-year-old Ziyed Ben Belgacem, had shouted he was there to “die for Allah” when he tried to seize a gun from a woman air force member on patrol at Orly airport.

After throwing down a bag containing a can of petrol and putting an air pistol to the head of the soldier, he was shot three times by her colleagues.

More than 230 people have died in France in the past twoyears at the hands of attackers allied to the militant Islamist group Islamic State, making security a key issue in the two-round presidential election on April 23 and May 7.

Emmanuel Macron, the centrist frontrunner, told France 2 television on Sunday it was “essential” to maintain the current state of emergency, in force since November 2015 . He reiterated that he would strengthen military operations and intelligence against Islamist militants.

Conservative Francois Fillon said France was in a “situation of virtual civil war” and spoke out against the idea of lifting the state of emergency, as floated by the justice minister last week.

Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, running on an

anti-immigration, anti-European Union ticket, told a rally that the government was “overwhelmed, stunned, paralysed like a rabbit in the headlights.”

IN AND OUT OF PRISON

Belgacem, who had been in and out of prison for theft and drug offences according to judicial sources, was already on the authorities’ radar . They said he became a radicalised Muslim when he served a prison term several years ago for drug-trafficking.

He had been reporting regularly to police under the terms of a provisional release from custody, and did not have the right to leave the country.

Several hours before he was killed, Belgacem had shot and wounded a police officer with his air pistol when he was stopped for a routine traffic check north of Paris, officials said . He then fled the scene.

He later entered a bar where he was a regular customer in Vitry-sur-Seine on the other side of Paris, and opened fire with his air gun without hitting anyone . He also stole a car before arriving at the airport.

Belgacem’s father, who was initially detained by police but released late on Saturday, denied his son had been involved in terrorism.

“My son has never been a terrorist . He has never prayed: he drinks . And, under the influence of alcohol and cannabis, this is what happens,” the father, whose name was not given, told Europe 1 radio.

He said he had received a phone call from his son in which Belgacem referred to shooting the police officer, saying: “I ask your forgiveness . I screwed up with a policeman.”

An autopsy showed the presence of cannabis and cocaine in Belgacem’s body, as well as an alcohol blood level of 0.93 grams per litre, a judicial source said on Sunday.

The legal limit for alcohol while driving in France is 0.5 g/l.

An earlier search of Belgacem’s home had found several grams of cocaine, the prosecutor said.

Belgacem was born in Paris, according to the prosecutor . French media said his family was of Tunisian origin.

A brother and cousin of Belgacem were also questioned by police and then released on Sunday, the judicial source said.

(Writing by Richard Balmforth; Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Sandra Maler)

Evidence shows Palestinian security forces violently suppressed peaceful protest in Ramallah

Photographic evidence and witness testimony gathered by Amnesty International at the scene suggest that Palestinian security forces used excessive force to violently suppress a peaceful protest outside of the Ramallah District Court in the West Bank on 12 March 2017. Ten minutes after the protest against the prosecution of six Palestinian men, including slain activist Basil al-Araj, began outside the courthouse in al-Bireh area, Amnesty International researchers witnessed heavily armed security forces arriving, carrying batons and shields . They immediately began to charge towards the protesters, violently striking them with the wooden batons, using pepper spray and firing tear gas into the crowd . At least 21 people (13 men and eight women) were injured, including four journalists covering the event . Seventeen were hospitalized.

There can be no justification for violently storming a peaceful protest . Video evidence obtained by Amnesty International shows Palestinian security forces resorting to brutal and alarming means to crush the protest in flagrant violation of their obligations to uphold and protect the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, said Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

There can be no justification for violently storming a peaceful protest

Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International Evidence Shows Palestinian Security Forces Violently Suppressed Peaceful Protest In Ramallah Evidence Shows Palestinian Security Forces Violently Suppressed Peaceful Protest In Ramallah Evidence Shows Palestinian Security Forces Violently Suppressed Peaceful Protest In RamallahPalestinian security forces firing tear gas into the crowd to disperse the protesters outside courthouse in Ramallah Amnesty International

Following a public outcry, Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah today announced the formation of a committee to investigate the actions of the police at the courthouse.

The Palestinian authorities must ensure that the investigation announced into this incident is independent, impartial and thorough and that all those found to be responsible are held accountable for their actions, said Magdalena Mughrabi. International human rights standards require that police and security forces avoid using force to disperse a peaceful assembly. Amnesty International staff present at the scene observed no violence from protesters prior to police attacking them with batons, tear gas and pepper spray . Those injured suffered bruises from heavy beatings with wooden batons or after being struck by tear gas canisters .

Four journalists from Wattan TV, Roya TV1, and Palestine Today were also beaten in what appeared to be a deliberate attempt to prevent them from covering the protest . No injuries were reported among members of the security forces. Khader Adnan, a protester who was hospitalized for his injuries, told Amnesty International: I was standing peacefully when tens of baton-wielding soldiers attacked me and beat me to the ground . Once I fell down one of them stepped on my head while others continued to beat me, ripping my clothes . I have injuries on my back, my shoulders, and my leg.

I was standing peacefully when tens of baton-wielding soldiers attacked me and beat me to the ground

Khader Adnan, Palestinian protester

He was taken to the Criminal Investigations Department with six others where he says he was verbally abused before five of them were released . The other two remained in detention. Farid al-Atrash, a lawyer, human rights defender and the head of the Bethlehem office of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights, who was present at the protest said he was beaten to the ground with wooden batons . He told Amnesty International he also witnessed police officers beating the father of Basil Al Araj, a Palestinian man who was killed by Israeli soldiers last week . I tried to protect him when I was attacked by the officers; they hit me to the ground and beat me on my legs, he said.

Evidence Shows Palestinian Security Forces Violently Suppressed Peaceful Protest In Ramallah Evidence Shows Palestinian Security Forces Violently Suppressed Peaceful Protest In Ramallah Evidence Shows Palestinian Security Forces Violently Suppressed Peaceful Protest In RamallahFather of Basil Al Araj, a Palestinian man who was killed by Israeli soldiers last week, was among those beaten by Palestinian security forces during the protest Amnesty International

Bassem Tamimi, a well-known Palestinian activist from Nabi Saleh and former prisoner of conscience was also injured in the demonstration . I can t believe they did this to us . I was speaking to the head of the police unit there telling him we will disperse in 15 minutes . We were almost done when I saw a large crowd of police begin to swarm us and attack in a vicious manner . They used wooden clubs and started to hit people left and right, I walked back when they shot a tear-gas canister directly into my lower back, hitting my tailbone . I didn t expect them to behave like this. Bassem Tamimi s wife, Nariman, also an activist from Nabi Saleh, was beaten after she intervened to tell security forces to stop beating and dragging a young man .

What did we do ? We did nothing wrong ! My shoulder and arm are now injured . I didn t believe they would do something like this, she said. One eyewitness, Hafez Omar, said the protesters were standing peacefully when the police told them to leave the area . When they refused, the police started pushing them and beating them with batons . He witnessed two other men being beaten before the police dragged him and beat him with batons on his arms, back and legs.

Evidence Shows Palestinian Security Forces Violently Suppressed Peaceful Protest In Ramallah Evidence Shows Palestinian Security Forces Violently Suppressed Peaceful Protest In Ramallah Evidence Shows Palestinian Security Forces Violently Suppressed Peaceful Protest In RamallahOne of the protesters who was beaten with a baton on his shoulder and back waits at Ramallah public hospital for treatment Amnesty International

Between 100 and 150 people had gathered outside the courthouse in al-Bireh to protest against the prosecution of six Palestinian men accused of possessing firearms . Four of the men Haitham Siyaj, Muhammad Harb, Muhammad al-Salameen and Saif Idrisi are currently held without charge or trial in administrative detention by Israeli authorities . The fifth man, Basil al-Araj, was killed by the Israeli military last week . The sixth man, Ali Dar al-Shaikh was not arrested by Israel and was present at the court yesterday. In a media interview on Monday, a spokesperson for the Palestinian authorities security forces, Adnan al-Dmeir, accused the protesters of being mercenaries and foreign agents who he said were seeking to spread chaos .

In the rare cases where Palestinian authorities have taken steps to ensure accountability in the past, they have resorted to disciplinary measures2 rather than criminal prosecutions to hold police or security forces to account even in cases where the use of force was abusive or arbitrary.

The Palestinian authorities must ensure that the security forces use of force is not excessive, abusive, arbitrary or otherwise unlawful . Anyone suspected of responsibility for arbitrary or abusive use of force must be prosecuted in a fair trial, said Magdalena Mughrabi. Anyone suspected of responsibility for arbitrary or abusive use of force must be prosecuted in a fair trial

Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International

Given the Palestinian authorities poor record of bringing security forces to justice after violent crackdowns on protests, it is even more crucial for the authorities to send a clear message that use of excessive force will not be tolerated and that violations will not go unpunished.

Background

Palestinian security forces police have used unnecessary or excessive force against peaceful demonstrators, including men and women, repeatedly in recent years. In a recent incident documented by Amnesty International, human rights lawyer, Mohannad Karajah, described how 10 members of the Palestinian security forces in plainclothes punched and kicked him and beat him all over his body with sticks at a demonstration on 4 October 2016 . At least five others were also assaulted .

No one has been prosecuted over the incident. In February 2016, mass strikes and protests over low wages for teachers were met with a heavy-handed response from Palestinian security forces who arrested 22 teachers and set up roadblocks around Ramallah to prevent teachers joining demonstrations. Palestinian security forces also used excessive force to disperse protests in previous years3.

References

  1. ^ Roya TV (www.youtube.com)
  2. ^ disciplinary measures (www.amnesty.org)
  3. ^ previous years (www.amnesty.org)