Turkey is putting 18 students and an academic on trial this week for organizing a peaceful Pride that police broke up with tear gas and plastic bullets.
The 19 people held the event on 10 May 2019 and authorities charged them in August 2019. But the courts have delayed the trial several times under international pressure. Now they have a new court date of 10 December – which also happens to be International Human Rights Day.
The defendants say the event at Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara, Turkey’s capital, happened after authorities lifted a ban on Prides.
Despite this, they say 50 police broke up the event and even fired tear gas and plastic bullets.
They have charged the 19 human rights defenders with ‘participating in an unlawful assembly’ and ‘failing to disperse despite being warned’. If the court finds them guilty, they could face up to three years in prison.
Surrounded by riot police
The Pride took place at Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara in May 2019.
METU has a long-running LGBT+ organization, The Solidarity Club, which formed in 1996. It has held Prides on campus since 2011. The events have been among the largest campus marches in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
However university authorities have never recognized the club and have tried to prevent all LGBT+ activities on its campus.
Meanwhile Ankara’s governor had used a state of emergency in Turkey to ban LGBT+ events in the city. However, authorities lifted that ban in April after LGBT+ organizations brought a court case against it.
That cleared the way for the Pride to go ahead in May, despite the university still opposing it.
But after they started the peaceful event, 50 riot police arrived. After a series of stand-offs, the police used tear gas and plastic bullets on the crowd. 21 students and one academic were taken into custody – with officers later charging 19 of them.
Despite the police harassment, activists from METU LGBTI+ Solidarity remain defiant.
They said: ‘Turkey is ignoring the international treaties that they are a party to and violate our basic human rights, on Human Rights Day. We are standing with all of our colours against this injustice.’
‘We have to speak out against this injustice’
Moreover, LGBT+ organizations say Turkey must find the defendants not guilty. Otherwise, they warn, it will be breaching its own legislation and the European Convention of Human Rights, of which Turkey is a signatory.
Turkish organization, ÜniKuir said: ‘We do not accept the prohibition, marginalisation or prosecution of the METU Pride march or any Pride march. We have to speak out against this injustice and we ask you to speak out with us.’
Meanwhile Katrin Hugendubel, advocacy director for LGBT+ organization ILGA-Europe said:
‘It is incredibly important that Turkey upholds its international and domestic human rights commitments by acquitting the METU Pride LGBTI activists on 10 December.
‘Anything else would be a slap in the face for human rights and the decision of the Ankara Administrative Court to lift the ban.
‘All Turkish citizens should enjoy the right to freedom of assembly, and this judgement will set a precedent for forthcoming similar trials in Turkey.’