Gezi Park
A protester throwing rocks at police during clashes at the entrance of Gezi park in 2013Reuters

An Istanbul court has handed down jail sentences to 244 participants over the 2013 Gezi protests. The prison terms range from between two-and-a-half months to 14 months.

Four defendants were acquitted while 255 protesters - including seven foreigners - were charged with a variety of offences. These ranged from damaging public property, taking part in illegal demonstrations, causing interruptions in public services, damaging a place of worship, injuring civil servants and protecting criminals.

The protests began in a bid to stop bulldozers from demolishing Gezi Park in central Istanbul to make way for a shopping centre. The park is one of the few remaining areas of greenery in the Turkish city. The demonstrations were originally peaceful, but turned violent once police resorted to heavy-handed tactics. Large groups of demonstrators subsequently mobilised to protest against current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's (then Prime Minister) authoritarian rule.

Erdogan accused protesters of entering Istanbul's Dolmabahce mosque with their shoes on and consuming alcohol on the premises. The Imam of the mosque has always maintained that no alcohol was drunk inside the place of worship. Protestors had entered the mosque to seek refuge from the violent clashes with police.

"There was a huge crowd around the mosque. There were people who were injured and brought into the mosque," Savas Dinc said in his court testimony. Dinc was working as a security guard at the mosque at the time.

Dinc added: "I warned the demonstrators not to enter the mosque with their shoes. When we failed to prevent the people from entering the mosque, we rolled out straw mats on the carpets. That way the carpets were not damaged. I did not witness anyone drinking alcohol in the mosque. I also did not see anyone drink anything else or smoke".

Defendant Cemile Korkmaz told the court that she had gone shopping with her son when the clashes erupted. "When the plastic bullets and tear gas were fired at the protesters, my son and I sought a place to hide, but the police detained us," Korkmaz said. "No warning was made prior to our detention. I was not involved in any unlawful incident. I don't accept the charges leveled against me. I demand my acquittal and that the warrant issued for my arrest to be revoked."

The Gezi Park protests left eight people dead and more than 8,000 injured. Prosecutors sought 12 years jail time for the defendants. More than two dozen activists, including doctors, architects and engineers were cleared in April.