11 February 2014
The Ankara Public Prosecutor’s Office has demanded up to 14 years in jail for three demonstrators who protested a controversial road project crossing the Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ) campus by planting trees on a site that had been clear-cut.
The indictment accuses the three, who were taken into custody following the demonstration, in which individuals “formed a human chain to plant trees on the municipality’s road construction site and prevented trucks [from passing] by giving trees to each other.”
Prosecutors said the protesters were guilty of “resisting against the execution of a duty,” “obstructing the activities of public institutions” and “breaching the Assembly and Demonstration Law,” demanding between 2.5 and 14.5 years in prison.
The much-criticized project threatens to cut down 3,000 trees on ODTÜ’s leafy campus, while only 600 of the trees can be replanted. The project envisages the construction of two roads on ODTÜ land, one of which will be replaced by a tunnel to minimize environmental damage, as suggested by the university.
Still, the environmental impact of the project triggered visceral anger among students and activists, who staged a number of demonstrations to protest the decision last year.
The indictment also stressed that a police intervention against a group of 20-25 protesters on Oct. 21, 2013, was “not disproportionate,” accusing the demonstrators of hurling stones. Activists and students, however, accused the police of brutality and of deliberately starting fires by firing tear gas canisters into wooded areas.
“The group prevented trucks working at the construction site from crossing by forming a human chain and handing trees to each other [in order to plant them]. Subsequently, a quarrel erupted between a 20-25 people from the group and the municipal workers at the site. Riot police intervened to separate them,” the indictment said.
The Ankara Metropolitan Municipality also sparked huge outcry last October after its construction workers entered the school’s campus during the night and during a public holiday without the university’s permission to clear-cut trees.
Even Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek, who has frequently expressed his glee at the potential of bulldozing down the wooded area of ODTÜ, reacted by saying that the start of the construction had taken him by surprise – albeit pleasantly. “Our friends made me a surprise last night. They cleared ODTÜ’s road in just one night. May it bring good fortune to our Ankara,” Gökçek said via Twitter.