Human rights organisations have urged Turkey to drop charges against 19 LGBT activists who are due to stand trial on Tuesday.
Eighteen students and one faculty staff member have been 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.
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), who was speaking on behalf of four campaigning groups.
“No one should be prosecuted for exercising their right to peaceful assembly. All charges against the human rights defenders should be dropped immediately, and this case should be closed.”
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. ‘It’s not legal’: UN stands by as Turkey deports vulnerable Syrians
Read more 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.
Turkish LGBT activists told Human Rights Watch earlier this year that the ban “adds to the stigmatisation and marginalisation of LGBTI people and makes them vulnerable to attacks”, and “casts LGBTI people as criminals and a threat to public values, which leads to their isolation”.
Civil Rights Defenders, International Federation for Human Rights, Front Line Defenders and ILGA-Europe, said in a joint statement: “We would like to remind the authorities that the state’s duty is to take security measures to protect peaceful assemblies and events, not ban them. The government should carry out a thorough and impartial investigation into the excessive use of force during the event, instead of prosecuting the human rights defenders.”
In am ILGA-Europe report published in May , Armenia, Turkey and Azerbaijan filled the bottom three spots in a list ranking 49 European countries according to their legal and policy practices for LGBT people.