Several human rights and LGBTQ organizations are trying to persuade the government of Turkey to release almost two dozen people arrested for nothing but publicly supporting LGBT people.
The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA-Europe), the Civil Rights Defenders, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and the Front Line Defenders are publicly advocating for Turkey to release 18 college students and one faculty member before they stand trial, according to The Advocate.
“On 12 November 2019, 19 LGBTI+ rights defenders will stand trial, charged with ‘participating in an unlawful assembly’ and ‘resisting despite warning’ for attending the peaceful LGBTI+ Pride March at the Middle East Technical University (METU) campus in Ankara on 10 May 2019,” ILGA-Europe’s press release reads.
In October 2018, the government of Ankara, Turkey outlawed all public LGBTQ+ events. Although the law appeared to be nullified in a Turkish court in April, the government still asks its police to enforce it. This followed a November 2017 “emergency ban” on public LGBTQ events.
So when it came time for METU’s LGBTI+ Solidarity group to organize their annual Pride event in May, the school informed the community that the event was still subject to the Ankara law, and thus was prohibited. Several students went on to publicly attend the Pride March anyway, and 21 students were arrested along with a professor after being violently attacked by Ankara police. The Pride attendees faced pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets and more. Afterwards, Ankara moved forward on charges for 18 of the 21 students, along with a university professor.
“We would like to remind the authorities that the state’s duty is to take security measures to protect peaceful assemblies and events, not ban them,” the four organizations’ collective statement reads. “The government should carry out a thorough and impartial investigation into the excessive use of force during the event, instead of prosecuting the human rights defenders.”
Despite being a member of the Council of Europe, where other members work to defend LGBTQ people, Turkey is one of the few European countries actively moving in the opposite direction on LGBTQ rights.
“No one should be prosecuted for exercising their right to peaceful assembly. All charges against the human rights defenders should be dropped immediately, and this case should be closed,” the collective statement from ILGA-Europe and others reads.
If the trial moves forward, the 19 would go on trial starting Tuesday, according to The Guardian.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently called a local area’s requirement to include LGBTQ candidates “immoral, outrageous, and a war against national values,” according to Human Rights Watch.
“The Ankara ban violates Turkey’s international obligations to respect and protect rights to equality before the law and freedom of peaceful expression and association, which are also protected under the Turkish Constitution,” Human Rights Watch notes in a statement. “As a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, Turkey is obligated to take necessary measures to enable peaceful assemblies to take place. The ban violates that obligation, among many others.”