Turkish Police Use Tear Gas And Rubber Bullets Against Pride Activists

Turkish police prevented an attempt by Pride activists to hold a parade in Istanbul on June 25. Police fired rubber bullets at small groups of around 40 activists who gathered in the country’s largest city in spite of a ban issued by the local authorities, an AFP journalist reported. The Istanbul governor’s office said it decided to prevent the march out of concern for the security of demonstrators, tourists and residents. According to witnesses, a heavy police presence outnumbered the activists and at least four people were detained.

Rights groups and activists have denounced the ban. Amnesty International said, “Turkey should protect rather than ban Pride marches.” “We are not scared, we are here, we will not change,” the Pride committee said in a statement. “You are scared, you will change and you will get used to it.”

This is the third successive year that local authorities have banned the pride parade in Istanbul. Istanbul’s Pride march is one of the biggest in the Muslim world, having drawn tens of thousands of people in the past. Last year, organizers were denied the ability to march following deadly bombings blamed on Islamic State and Kurdish militants. This year, far-right and conservative groups reportedly issued threats aimed at the parade.

Unlike many other Middle Eastern countries, homosexuality is not a crime in Turkey. Istanbul has been a refuge for members of the gay community from other parts of the Middle East, such as Syria and Iraq. However, homophobia remains a persistent and widespread problem. LGBT people in Turkey regularly complain of harassment and abuse.

Deniz Sapka is a 27-year-old transgender woman originally from the southeastern province of Hakkari. She goes by that surname to avoid recognition from family members. Sapka told the Associated Press that, “The violence against us has existed since the day we were born. It starts in the family, it continues at the University, in the working life,” she added. “We are people who have always experienced a state of emergency. We experience it from our birth.”

Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan and his Islamist-rooted AK Party have shown little interest in implementing measures to expand the rights of minorities, members of the LBGT community and women, and are intolerant of dissent. In 2010, Selma Aliye Kavaf, former family minister, described homosexuality as a “biological disorder” and a “disease.” In this way, the Turkish government contributes towards the exacerbation and consolidation of the homophobic and transphobic attitudes that continue to violate the rights of the LGBT community.

Organizers have claimed that security was being used as an excuse to prevent the pride parade from occurring. “The true reason for the reactions towards a march that took place in peace for 12 years is hate,” organizers commented.

Lara Ozlen, from the march’s organizing committee said to the AFP, “It is obvious that a peaceful march is part of our constitutional right.” “It’s been known for years. Instead of protecting us, to say ‘do not march’ just because some will be disturbed is undemocratic,” she added.

Although the Turkish government claimed that it banned the march to protect demonstrators, residents, and tourists, it cannot protect its citizens through violent action nor through negating their freedoms. As organizers said, “Our security cannot be provided by imprisoning us behind walls, asking us to hide.” “Our security will be provided by recognizing us in the constitution, by securing justice, by equality and freedom,” they added.