Istanbul police violently break up PRIDE March and arrest over 300 people

A screenshot from the AFP News Agency video report.

The theme of this year's Pride March in Turkey was “resistance.” This year also marked the 30th anniversary of Istanbul LGBT+ Pride Week. On June 26, the Pride Week ended with arrests and barricaded streets, as scores of police prevented participants from marching.

A week ahead of the march, organizers said Istanbul Governorship officials denied them permission to march. Local rights defenders and march organizers said over 300 people were detained but most were released by the following day.

373 people detained yesterday have been released after their statements were taken and will be sent to hospitals for medical check ups.

On June 20, in a statement issued by the governors of Kadikoy and Beyoglu districts of Istanbul, authorities yet again banned all events for seven days due to security concerns. The organizers of Istanbul Pride Week said the decision was illegal in a statement published on the group's website and social media accounts.

Today, with the start of Istanbul's 30th LGBT+ Pride Week, the police visited the venues selected for the events this week as part of “general control”

In a separate incident on June 17, a group of university students were targeted by Islamist and nationalist groups ahead of a picnic organized as part of the Pride Week activities. According to reporting by Gazete Duvar, the students of Istanbul University were surrounded by the Islamists chanting “Takbir, Allah-u Ekber” (Allah is the greatest) but were stopped short following police intervention. In a tweet, students announced the picnic was cancelled due to lynching and that people should avoid gathering in large groups in the area. Also earlier this month, police arrested 11 LBGTQ+ activists in Istanbul who later said they were mistreated and tortured in police custody. They published photos after their release of heavily bruised wrists and legs, which they sustained while they were detained, reported Euronews.

This is not the first time that Pride events have been banned in the name of so-called public safety. In 2015, Turkish police fired tear gas and water cannons at Pride march participants. In 2016, the march was banned in Istanbul to “safeguard security and public order.” In 2017, in the capital Ankara, the government imposed an indefinite, blanket ban on Pride events, relying on its “state of emergency” powers vested in the government following a military coup in 2016. Similarly, in Istanbul, the Pride parade was banned due to security concerns the same year. The event was yet again banned in 2018 on security grounds even though many defied the ban by marching in Istanbul before police intervened, using tear gas canisters and water cannons to disband the protestors.  In 2019, police intervened as crowds celebrated Istanbul's 17th annual pride march. In 2020, the march was canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The last authorized march took place in 2014. Last year, police shot tear gas canisters and rubber bullets at the protestors.

One day ahead of the planned march, local authorities announced they would be shutting down key subway stations in the city. Istanbul Bar Association criticized the move in a statement on June 26, arguing that preventing people from peacefully demonstrating was unlawful.

Despite the bans and the heavy police presence, march participants gathered on the streets of Istanbul as well as other cities across the country to mark the day, holding rainbow flags and chanting slogans like “The rainbow is not a crime. Discrimination is a crime,” “We are here. We are queer. We are not going anywhere.”

Police also used force against media representatives covering the march.

Police attacked the Istanbul LGBTQ Pride March. While the press was battered and forcibly removed from the area, AFP Bureau Photography Chief Bülent Kılıç, who was forcefully pressed against the ground, with police pushing down on his neck last was also detained under torture.

Reporters Without Borders, later tweeted Kılıç was released after undergoing a medical check-up and that he would press charges on the grounds that he was beaten and was not allowed to meet with his lawyer while he was kept on the bus, waiting for 4.5 hours. The organization's Turkey representative Erol Onderoglu said police have made it a habit to detain Kılıç and continue to use “arbitrary violence and detention against journalists.”

Police used similar intervention in other cities where the march was held.

Police in Izmir are trying to force LGBTI+s out of the area!

In the meantime, the organizers of the march in a statement said they will continue to resist:

Together we have force. We get our power from our resistance, and we continue to resist. As LGBTI+s who celebrate their dignity and existence on the streets every year in the last week of June, we are here with persistence in our struggle, hope for tomorrow, and the courage and solidarity we receive from each other. We were, we are, we will be!

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