Erdogan Uses Violence to Contain Istanbul Gay Pride Parade

Turkey's Erdogan faces poll test against resurgent opposition

LGBT Turks staged a gay pride rally Sunday in Istanbul despite warnings by police that the event was not legal, after reportedly coming to a last-minute agreement to allow a smaller gathering. Police nonetheless attacked congregants with rubber bullets and arrested at least five, ending the event the same way it has for the past four years.

Istanbul Pride used to be the largest event of its kind in the Muslim world, but has faced repeated state violence and arbitrary shutdowns under Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan recently cemented himself in power in a presidential election where he nearly banned any media presence for the opposition and one of his most formidable opponents was forced to campaign from prison.

According to Amnesty International, police told organizers the traditional parade was banned due to being “not appropriate,” but the group negotiated to allow a small rally on one street. The Istanbul LGBTI+ group used the opportunity to read a press release denouncing the Islamist government and mocking their fear of free expression.

The congregation also chanted slogans such as, “Don’t be silent, shout out, homosexuals exist.”

“The 16th Pride March has been banned by the Istanbul governor’s office for the fourth time. The governor has once again committed a crime by discriminating against a specific part of society,” the group’s statement read. “We miss the marches attended by thousands where we celebrate our visibility. We make fun of those who try to place boundaries on us by the pride of our existence and the strength of our pride.”

The organizers called the ban “comical” and insisted they did not “recognize” it.

The Agence France-Presse reports that one thousand people gathered for the rally, waving rainbow flags in celebration. Prior to the Erdogan regime acting to shut down the march, in 2014, the event attracted an estimated 100,000 people. The first Istanbul Pride march occurred in 2003.

Following the end of the reading of the statement, police demanded that the crowd disperse, arresting 11 and shooting into the crowd with rubber bullets. According to one report, an individual was attacked by a police dog and tackled by ten officers. At least 5 remained behind bars on Monday, the organizers tweeted, but were ultimately released after an interrogation.

AFP notes that the Istanbul governor’s office has not issued any public statement on the incident.

The incident Sunday has become typical in the history of the Istanbul Pride March since 2015, when organizers said they were told the march would occur peacefully before being surprised by tear gas and water cannons. Shortly before the march was to occur, authorities told organizers they needed to ban it because it fell during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, though the 2014 march which transpired without incident did also. This year’s march was far from landing within the Ramadan month.

In 2016, Istanbul’s government deployed hundreds of police officers to the streets to attack revelers with water cannons once more, refusing to allow the march to go on due to unspecified “security reasons.” Islamist groups had threatened to use violence against the march if it occurred, but no terrorist attacks happened. That march occurred days after the failed coup against Erdogan on June 15.

Last year, Istanbul’s governor’s office said that the march could not go on “considering the safety of tourists in the area … and public order.”

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