Gay rights activists pushed ahead with a pride rally in Istanbul, Turkey, on Sunday despite a ban from the governor’s office that has been in place for five years. Istanbul police allowed the demonstrators to gather and listen to a statement from the organizers before firing tear gas into the crowd.
The rally drew several hundred participants into a side street, where they chanted slogans such as “shoulder-to-shoulder against fascism” and “we will not be quiet.” At its height, the march in Istanbul had tens of thousands of participants, but this year only a small fraction of that number attended the side-street rally.
A heavy police presence was noted across the city throughout the day, with riot gear, police dogs, and water cannons on display. According to rally organizers, they had a deal with the governor’s office to read a public statement and then disperse peacefully. The reasons for police action were a little murky, but the crowd evidently did not disperse quickly enough after the public statement was read.
Homosexuality is not technically illegal in Turkey, Istanbul is seen as more welcoming to homosexuals than most of the country, and gay pride marches have been held there since 2003, but five years ago the event was declared “societally objectionable” and a threat to public security by the governor’s office.
“It is one more time demonstrated that those who ban our Pride March with copy-and-paste reasons such as public peace and security, terror, public morality, and public health can not govern the state,” the organizers said.
“Our demands neither disturb public peace nor threaten public security. Our demands are essential in a constitutional state in order for us to have equal citizenship rights,” they argued.
The newly elected mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, told reporters on Friday that he planned to discuss the ban against the gay pride parade with the relevant authorities because he believes any group should be allowed to hold peaceful demonstrations.
Imamoglu is an opposition candidate who defeated former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim of the ruling AKP Party in the mayor’s race, then won again by an even wider margin two weeks ago in a repeat election after the AKP refused to concede, touching off a political earthquake in Turkey.