Police stifle LGBTI pride march at Turkish university

LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex) pride marchers were attacked and detained by police on Friday at a Turkish university.

Twenty-five of the students who gathered to celebrate the banned 9th pride march, and to support LGBTI rights at the Middle East Technical University (ODTU), were detained after a police intervention riot.

The banning of the March was announced on May 6 by the university rectorate via e-mail, declaring that the annual May 10 event would not be allowed to take place at the university campus. Prof. Mustafa Versan Kok, the university rector, grounded his decision on the all-embracing ban by the city’s governor enacted in 2017.

ODTU LGBTI Solidarity group released an announcement calling on all students to participate in the scheduled march on May 10.

While demonstrating peacefully, the students were told by the police that they were not allowed to stand under tents, to fly a rainbow flag, to sit on the lawn, or read out a statement, according to a report by Amnesty International, the world’s largest human rights organization.

The police used undue force in a bid to disperse the student marchers by using tear gas and shooting rubber bullets at retreating students, with one student shot in the face.

Among those detained were LGBTI student activists Melike Balkan and Ozgur Gur, as well as an ODTU academic.

Fotis Filippou, Campaigns Director for Europe at Amnesty International, condemned the violent police intervention to break up the pride celebration.

“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. Reports of excessive use of force by the police must be urgently investigated,” said Filippou.

Allegedly for security reasons, the Ankara Governor Office banned all gay festivals, screenings, forums and exhibitions on November 18, 2017, during a state of emergency rule following a failed military coup of July 2016, stating that it wanted to protect public order and sensitivities.

A week before the office’s announcement, a festival of German-language gay films had also been banned, saying the festival’s content “could incite grudges and enmity toward a part of society”.

In the aftermath of the coup, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) began cracking down on cultural activities in support of LGBTI rights, arguing that such functions are likely to “provoke reactions within certain segments” of society and are also at risk of being targeted by “terrorists”.

However, the ban on LGBTI events in Ankara was lifted with a decision by the Ankara 12th Administrative Court on April 19, 2019.

Homosexuality is legal in Turkey, which, in 2003, became the first Muslim majority country to allow a gay pride march. However, activists, who have carried on staging regular annual marches in Ankara and Istanbul since 2003 have faced mass arrests and violence from the police.

According to activists, homophobia is on the rise in the country.

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