Turkish Islamist government authorities abruptly canceled Istanbul’s annual gay pride parade on Sunday, giving organizers no time to keep attendees from congregating and falling victim to water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets, and other crowd control measures Turkey’s government is calling “proportional” to the threat presented.
The parade, which is considered the largest of its kind in the Muslim world due to Turkey’s no longer having laws against homosexuality, attracted hundreds of supporters wearing rainbow flags and the colorful gear now traditionally associated with LGBT pride. They were met by a significant police presence keeping them from Taksim Square, a popular protest area also used for other gatherings. Police dispersed the crowd with water cannons, shooting at protesters who refused to leave the area. “We thought this was going to be a ‘normal,’ peaceful pride walk, but the police welcomed us with tear gas. … They blocked all the little streets and alleys leading to Istiklal Street where the walk [was] supposed to take place,” one attendee told Vice News.
Videos taken at the event and posted on social media show water cannons attacking rally-goers armed only with rainbow flags:
— Funda Eryiğit (@fundaeryigit) June 28, 2015
U.S. Consul General Charles Hunter, Vice notes, attended the parade in solidarity with Turkey’s LGBT community.
In a Facebook post, event organizers stated they had permission to organize the event for years, and were told–with no notice from government officials–that the rally had “suddenly been banned by the Istanbul Governor’s Office, using the month of Ramadan as the reason.” The pride parade in June 2014 also coincided with Ramadan and met no resistance from officials. Both the mayor of Istanbul and governor of Istanbul province are members of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), a strongly Islamist political party.
Authorities have responded to international criticism of their handling of the event with a statement claiming no casualties were reported at the event and that organizers had created an event “open to provocations.” Furthermore, “The Governor’s Office was not informed and no permission was taken for the parade,” the statement claimed, continuing, “Security forces dispersed them with their duties given by the law with proportional [force].”
Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks has condemned the government crackdown of the event, issuing a statement that says, “The right to peaceful assembly is a fundamental human right that Turkey must better protect. I call on the authorities to identify those responsible for this violence and punish them.”
Hurriyet notes that the first such pride parade occurred in Istanbul in 2003 and had grown from 30 marchers at the first parade to 50,000 in 2013.
While Istanbul is home to the parade widely recognized as the largest LGBT pride parade in the Muslim world, it is not the freest place for LGBT individuals in the Middle East. That distinction goes to the Jewish state of Israel, home to the largest LGBT pride celebration in the Middle East, and boasting an incomparably positive human rights record on the LGBT issue. While Israel has recognized LGBT rights for decades, torture and murder of LGBT people in the Palestinian territories under the rule of terrorist organization Hamas remains a common phenomenon.