Detained Istanbul Airport workers released at first hearing

All 31 of the workers imprisoned after protesting against conditions on the building site for Istanbul’s new airport have been released, Turkish news site T24 reported on Wednesday.

The workers were released at the first hearing of their trial, after two-and-a-half months behind bars. The hearing took place in the Istanbul court’s canteen to accommodate the 31 detainees and 30 other defendants in the case, and was closed to members of the press.

The 61 have been charged with dereliction of duty, breaches of labour rights, damaging public property and joining the protests armed with weapons.

Workers building the airport downed their tools and called protests in September, weeks before the airport was due to open. They had been spurred by bus crashes on the building site that left dozens injured, but their list of grievances included unhygienic living and working conditions, unpaid wages and dire health and safety standards that they said had resulted in the deaths of dozens of workers.

The Turkish government said 27 workers had died on the site since work began in May 2015. However, the Presidency updated that figure last week to 52.

Nevertheless, the protests were blamed on provocateurs, and more than 500 striking workers were detained.

Ali Şeker, a deputy for Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) who has followed the case, commented after the first hearing that the people being killed were the ones on trial, rather than the killers.

After the protests, several of the detained workers were beaten by gendarmerie officers while in custody and while giving statements, but doctors failed to report the beatings, T24 quoted one of the defendants as saying.