More than 200 arrested during Pride March in Istanbul

Turkish police melted down again at the LGBTQ+ Pride March in Istanbul on Sunday, ruthlessly arresting more than 200 people, activists and journalists, including an AFP photographer.

Even before the start of the rally, riot police carried out a first heavy raid on several bars and on the streets of the Cihangir district around the iconic Taksim Square, arresting people “accidentally” there, an AFP.

According to the march organizers, a total of around 200 people were arrested in several waves and gradually released in the early evening.

The NGO Kaos GL, which works to promote and protect LGBTQ+ people, had previously counted “more than 150” arrests in the afternoon.

Amnesty International called for her “unconditional and immediate release” on Twitter.

As every year, the Pride March had been officially banned by the city’s governor, but hundreds of protesters with rainbow flags gathered in the streets adjacent to Taksim Square, which is completely closed to the public.

Singing “The future is queer!”, “You will never be alone!” or “We are here, we are queer, we are not going anywhere else!” the protesters then marched through the streets of the Cihangir district for a little over an hour , supported by local residents stationed at the windows.

Those arrested were taken in police vans to Istanbul’s main police station, an AFP videographer noted.

“They try to ban us, stop us from discriminating against us and even kill us every minute of our lives,” Diren, 22, told AFP.

“But today is an opportunity to defend our rights, to shout that we exist: you will never be able to stop queers,” Diren adds, using the term, which denotes any form of altersexuality and refutes the biological definition of gender.

According to several witnesses, the police tried to prevent the press from filming the arrests.

Bülent Kilic, a veteran and award-winning AFP photographer familiar with conflict zones, was handcuffed behind his back, his T-shirt ripped off and loaded into a police van with others.

He had been arrested in the same circumstances last year.

On Twitter, the press-defense organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) regretted that the Turkish authorities appear to have “got into the habit of arresting AFP photojournalist Bülent Kilic.”

“Despite three convictions by the Constitutional Court in the last three years, the security forces continue to use violence and arbitrary arrests against journalists. Unfortunately, the administration has got into the habit of disregarding court decisions or laws,” added its representative Erol Onderoglu.

After a spectacular parade in 2014 with more than 100,000 people in Istanbul, the Turkish authorities have banned the Pride March year after year, officially for security reasons.

On Friday, EU Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatović “called on the Istanbul authorities to lift the current ban on the Pride March and to ensure the safety of peaceful demonstrators”.

“The human rights of LGBT people in Turkey must be protected,” she added, calling for “an end to their stigma.”

Homosexuality, which has been decriminalized in Turkey since the mid-19th century (1858), is not outlawed but remains largely the subject of social abuse and hostility from the ruling Islamic conservative party, the AKP, and that of President Recep Tayyip’s government Erdogan.

A minister once called homosexuals “crazy”.

In 2020, the Netflix platform had been forced to abandon production of a series in Turkey because it portrayed a gay character and failed to get the green light from the authorities.

In the same year, French sporting goods and clothing brand Decathlon was the subject of boycott calls in Turkey for conveying messages of support for the LGBTQ+ communities in its campaigns.

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