Environmental activists risk jail over Istanbul protests

Prosecutors charged them with public order offences over protests against the construction of a mosque

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Fifteen Turkish ecological activists could face up to seven-and-a-half years in jail after prosecutors charged them with public order offences over protests against the construction of a mosque in Istanbul last year, judicial sources said Thursday.

The activists have been charged in the indictment by prosecutors with breaking the law on protests and throwing bottles and stones at the security forces.

Under the charges, the accused face jail terms of between one year and three months up to seven-and-a-half years, the source added. The date of the trial has yet to be fixed.

Activists late in 2014 had held a series of protests in the Uskudar district on the Asian side of Istanbul against the construction of a major new mosque in a green space.

The area, known as the Validebag Grove, is one of the rare green spaces in the packed Turkish city and is also an important staging point for migratory birds.

Opponents argue that the project is needless as the area is already home to 26 mosques and would require a major felling of trees.

Despite a court injunction ordering a halt to the construction, the building work carried on with the building site protected by anti-riot police.

Turkey has moved to construct a number of new mosques under the rule of the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) which came to power in 2002.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the time backed the construction of the Uskudar mosque and slammed the protesters.

The controversy came after security forces put down nationwide protests in May-June 2013 that began as demonstrations to stop construction on a park in central Istanbul and snowballed into a wave of anger against Erdogan.

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