Above the white helmets of the Istanbul police, the molested demonstrators brandish their rainbow flags. On Sunday June 26, nearly 400 people, activists and journalists alike, were arrested in the Turkish capital for taking part in the Pride March banned by the authorities for security reasons. “For some of us, Gay Pride is still a revolt”, laments a participant, faced with the brutality of the arrests.
In the morning, even before the crowd swept into the streets, the police had blocked access to Taksim Square, closed to the public, and started to randomly question passers-by in cafes and restaurants in the Cihangir district. Among the demonstrators arrested, the chief photographer of AFP in Turkey, Bülent Kilic, was handcuffed and loaded into a police van. The Turkish authorities “seem to have taken to arresting photojournalist Bülent Kilic”reacted Erol Onderoglu, the Turkish representative of the NGO Reporters Without Borders, which recently placed the country in 149th place out of 180 in the press freedom ranking.
A few days earlier, on Monday June 20, the governors of Beyoğlu and Kadıköy districts had both invoked the law on demonstrations and public meetings to prevent all gatherings “in all open and closed areas for seven days”, according to a statement from the governor. LGBT rights groups across the country have accused the government of carrying out a “hate campaign” against them.
Following these announcements, the European Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, called for an end to the “stigma” of the LGBT community and called for the lifting of “the current ban on the Pride March and to guarantee the safety of peaceful demonstrators”.
Hardening of hostility
Since the 2014 parade, which brought together more than 100,000 people, the Pride March has gradually been banned in Turkey, while homosexuality has been decriminalized there since 1858 and the country has long been considered a model of tolerance in the Muslim world. But hostility towards the LGBT community has hardened over the years, especially from the side of the ruling Islamo-conservative party, the AKP, and its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Last year, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu described LGBT people as “degenerates” on Twitter.
In 2020, the LGBT rights association Kaos GL also observed that more than half of the information related to this community in the national and local media amounted to hate speech, marking an increase compared to 2019. Moreover, the European branch of the international lesbian and gay association Ilga placed Turkey at the 48e place in its ranking of the 49 countries in Europe based on their LGBT equality laws and policies.