Istanbul: More than two dozen anti- government protesters went on trial today in Turkey, accused of organising last year`s demonstrations in what Amnesty International denounced as a "show trial".
An Istanbul court began hearing the case against 26 members of the Taksim Solidarity umbrella group, who are accused of leading the protests that erupted in June 2013 and posed the biggest challenge yet to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan`s 11-year rule.
The activists, who include doctors, architects and engineers, face charges including founding a crime syndicate, violating public order and organising illegal protests through social media and face up to 29 years if convicted.
Last June`s protests started as a small environmentalist movement to stop the re-development of Istanbul`s Gezi Park and quickly blew up into wider nationwide demonstrations against Erdogan`s authoritarian style that left at least eight people dead and some 8,000 injured after police brutally cracked down on protesters.
Amnesty International urged the Turkish authorities to abandon what it called a "show trial".
"This is a vindictive, politically motivated show trial without a shred of evidence of actual crimes. It should be stopped at the first hearing," Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International`s researcher on Turkey, said in a statement.
"The prosecution has concocted a case simply to send a strong message to the rest of Turkey that the authorities will ruthlessly pursue anyone who dissents and organises protests against government policies."
The activist group was formed in 2012 after the government announced plans to redevelop Gezi Park, one of the last remaining green spaces in central Istanbul, and neighbouring Taksim Square, the country`s most symbolic rallying point.
The group met Erdogan at the height of the unrest to discuss the protesters` demands, only to be accused by the premier of being "traitors" aiming to destabilise the government.
Mucella Yapici, 63, general secretary of Istanbul Chamber of Architects is one of the key accused. She told AFP she was briefly detained by police, who stripped her naked and deprived her of medication for a range of chronic illnesses.
But she said she was not afraid to spend the rest of her life behind bars.
"I`ve lived a full life. It doesn`t matter where I spend the rest of it when you consider that a 14-year-old boy has been killed," she said ahead of the trial, referring to Berkin Elvan who died of injuries sustained during the unrest.