Rights bodies push for Turkish court to drop charges against LGBT activists


Eighteen Turkish students and one faculty staff member are due to stand trial on Tuesday after being charged with “participating in an unlawful assembly” and “resisting despite warning” after attending a Pride march in May at the campus of the Ankara-based Middle East Technical University.

Human rights organizations are urging the Ankara government to drop the charges against them.

Twenty-two people were arrested during a police raid at the event, where pepper spray, tear gas and plastic bullets were used to break up the crowd. All were released on the same day, but 19 were charged in August.

“The defenders were practising their right to assembly and standing up for the rights of others in a peaceful manner when the police attacked and arrested them,” said Björn van Roozendaal, programmes director for the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA-Europe).

The university’s LGBTI+ solidarity group, established in 1996, has held annual Pride marches on campus since 2011. University officials emailed all students and employees before this year’s march to say that a general ban on LGBT events issued by the office of Ankara’s governor applied on campus. The email warned police intervention would be sought if the event went ahead.

Following the arrests, Amnesty International condemned the police intervention, saying that “reports of excessive use of force by the police must be urgently investigated”.

Fotis Filippou, campaigns director for Europe at Amnesty International, said: “It is a dark day when university authorities call the police to silence students who are simply demanding their rights to dignity and equality. All those detained by police must be released immediately and unconditionally.”

Turkey decriminalised homosexuality in the 19th century, long before many other nations. In practice, however, LGBT people have little legal protection from discrimination and hostility towards them is rife across Turkey’s conservative society.

Turkey hosts hundreds of LGBT refugees from other countries, including from neighbouring Iran, where homosexuality is punishable by death.

Authorities banned gay pride in Istanbul in 2015, and have since strongly opposed LGBT events. In June, the police ended a small LGBT rally in the city by using tear gas and rubber bullets.

ILGA-Europe said Turkish authorities used the state of emergency declared in July 2016 to impose a ban on LGBT events that has since continued, despite emergency rule ending in July 2018.

An appeals court in Ankara ruled against the ban in April “on the grounds that it was unlawful and restricted rights and freedoms in unconditional, vague, and disproportionate ways”, ILGA-Europe said. (Source: The Guardian)