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Turkish police crack down on Istanbul Pride

Attack shows ‘blatant disregard’ for LGBT community and freedom of assembly, says ILGA

(Pride marchers gather in Istanbul June 28 as police arrive to disperse them./Joti Heir)

Hundreds of police officers armed with tear gas and water cannons descended on downtown Istanbul June 28 to prevent the Pride parade from going ahead.

“If gas is only way you have to communicate with your citizens, there’s something going utterly wrong in a state,” tweeted European Parliament member Terry Reintke, who observed the violence firsthand.

The parade was abruptly cancelled by the Istanbul Governor’s Office just hours before tens of thousands of participants were set to march from the city’s main square. A conflict with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan was cited as the reason for the cancellation.

(Police disperse Pride marchers./Joti Heir)

Police and barricades managed to keep marchers out of the main square, forcing participants to scatter on side streets throughout the city.

The Guardian reports that some marchers managed to regroup without incident a few blocks away, where they “continued to dance and chant slogans against homophobia without any further clashes. The rally grew to several thousand people as the day wore on.”

According to the European office of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA-Europe), it’s the first time since Istanbul Pride’s inception in 2003 that Turkish police have disrupted the city’s gay Pride parade.

(Tear gas injury at Instanbul Pride 2015./Joti Heir)

In a statement released June 29, ILGA-Europe says it views the police crackdown with mounting concern.

“ILGA-Europe strongly condemn the actions of the police and view their actions as a severe infringement on the right to freedom of assembly in Turkey,” the press release says. “This disproportionate incident is an indication of the blatant disregard that the current Turkish government has for the LGBTI community and civil society in general.”

What makes the police attack even more disturbing, the statement says, “is the fact that freedom of assembly had previously been guaranteed and respected by the Turkish authorities. Homophobic and transphobic violence has marred the lives of LGBTI people in Turkey for years; the government’s respect for the right to assemble had been the one positive point amid their general inactivity on LGBTI issues.”

(Pride marchers assemble peacefully before police disperse them with tear gas and a water cannon./Joti Heir)

As a result of the police crackdown on Pride, ILGA-Europe says it has revised its index of supportive European countries to demote Turkey to 47th out of 49 countries. Turkey now ranks ahead of only Russia and Azerbaijan on ILGA’s Rainbow Europe Index of gay rights.

Turkey’s ruling conservative party narrowly retained power in the June 7 election but couldn’t form a majority, forcing it to form a coalition for the first time since coming to power in 2002.

(Joti Heir photos)