Turkish judge rules participating in Pride march is not a crime

A Turkish court acquitted all 19 defendants charged for participating in an LGBT+ Pride march on a university campus in capital Ankara in 2019, saying their actions did not constitute a crime, Reuters reported on Friday. 

More than 20 students and a professor were detained over their participation at a Pride parade at Ankara’s prestigious Middle East Technical University (METU) on May 10, 2019, organised by the university’s LGBTI solidarity group.

Eighteen students and the faculty member were later charged with "refusing to disperse."

The march was banned by Ankara’s governor and the police, who intervened the parade used tear gas, rubber bullets and a water cannon on those in attendance at the university’s 9th Pride parade.

Defence lawyer Öykü Didem Aydın, holding a rainbow flag in protest, had demanded the acquittal of the defendants, saying freedom of expression was a constitutional right, Reuters said.

"What harm can this flag cause when I hold it in my hand? Does that mean I refuse to disperse despite a police warning? A student gets taken into custody simply for holding a flag," Aydın said.

Being LGBT has never been criminalised under the modern Turkish republic, but LGBT-focused events have been banned in the country since 2015, after the Istanbul Pride attracted some 100,000 participants in 2014.

The country ranked the second worst country in the European Union for LGBT people, scoring only above Azerbaijan, according the 2021 “Rainbow Europe” ranking compiled by Brussels-based NGO advocating for LGBT rights, ILGA-Europe.

The report ranking a total of 49 countries, highlighted incidents and campaigns of hate speech in Turkey targeting the group this year, with public figures “blaming LGBT people or gay men for the COVID-19 pandemic, and for spreading other illnesses.’’

In April, the head of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, the country’s top religious body, called on people to “oppose the illnesses and decay to lineage” brought on by the “evil” of homosexuality.

Earlier this year, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu called LGBT students at Istanbul’s prestigious Boğaziçi University and LGBT community at large “deviants”, while President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has outright denied the existence of LGBT persons in the country.

The report also covered restrictions on freedom of assembly and attacks targeting LGBTI human rights defenders and their work. 

Following July 2016’s failed military coup which Turkey blames the Gülen Movement for orchestrating it in order to overthrow the government, local governors were given the power to ban public gatherings. Governors across the country used this power to ban Pride marches.

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