Organizers say İstanbul LGBT pride march will go ahead despite ban

İstanbul’s sixth lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) pride march will go ahead on Sunday even though the governor of the city banned it citing security concerns, the organizers of the event said on Friday, according to a report by Reuters.

In a statement published on the Facebook page of İstanbul LGBTI+ Pride Week, the organizers said the decision to ban the march was discriminatory and illegitimate. “This march is organized in order to fight against the violence and discrimination fueled by that governorship decision,” the organizers said and added, “We would like to inform the press and the public that we will go ahead with our prideful march with the same ambition as we had before.”

Gay pride parades have been banned in İstanbul for the last three years. Although homosexuality is not a crime in Turkey, unlike in many other Muslim-majority countries, there is widespread hostility to it across Turkish society.

On Thursday, authorities in Ankara banned the screening of “Pride,” a 2014 comedy-drama with LGBT themes, citing risks to public safety.

The İstanbul Governor’s Office has banned the Pride March since 2015, citing security concerns and the need to uphold public order. It has also invoked the excuse that selected locations were not suitable for public assemblies. Nevertheless, in recent years, some people tried to gather in spite of the bans, and police responded harshly, using excessive force to arrest and disperse participants.

Far-right and ultra-nationalist groups have also attempted to stop LGBTI people from marching, citing public morality and values. Authorities have perversely used these threats as further justification to ban the march.

“Banning LGBTI activities and events is becoming routine and widespread in Turkey. Bans on the İstanbul Pride March and Trans Pride March have been followed by the Ankara Governor’s November 2017 ban on all LGBTI-related events in the city and the cancellation of LGBTI events in several other cities in Turkey,” according to an assessment made by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The HRW assessment said LGBTI and human rights activists have filed several criminal complaints against these government bans and various threatening groups. “Restrictions on freedoms of expression, assembly, and association for LGBTI people in Turkey not only violate those fundamental human rights, but place Turkey in violation of its international obligations,” said HRW.

HRW also stated that “As a member of the Council of Europe, Turkey should adhere to the Council’s standards to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. A 2010 recommendation provides that members states should ensure everyone can enjoy their freedom of peaceful assembly without any discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. It also says governments should not misuse legal and administrative provisions to impose restrictions on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly on grounds of public health, public morality, and public order.”

HRW called on the İstanbul Governor’s Office to lift its arbitrary bans and allow the Pride March to take place this year. “Turkey has an obligation to ensure LGBTI people are able to fully enjoy their rights to peaceful freedom of expression, association and assembly free of discrimination. Law enforcement authorities assigned to uphold public order should remember they are there to protect those participating in the march.”

Civil liberties in Turkey have become a particular concern for the West after a crackdown following a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016. Turkey has detained some 160,000 people and dismissed nearly the same number of state employees since the coup attempt, the United Nations said in March. Of those, more than 50,000 have been formally charged and are being kept in jail during trial.

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