Turkey: Recurrent instances of violence against LGBTQI+ and women’s rights defenders

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Paris-Geneva, July 6, 2021— On June 26 and July 1, 2021, Pride March in Istanbul and the country-wide protests against Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, respectively, were again marked by police violence against peaceful protestors and journalists. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT) urges the authorities to put an immediate end to all acts of harassment against LGBTQI+ and women’s rights defenders in Turkey.

The 19th LGBTQI+ Pride March in Istanbul was once again banned by the local authorities. LGBTQI+ rights defenders’ attempt to organise the Pride March in Maltepe Meeting Site, one of the designated areas for public gatherings and meetings, was prevented by the Istanbul Governor’s Office on grounds including the prevention of acts of violence and terrorism and the protection of public order, health and morality. The Pride March was later relocated to Taksim area, where it has been traditionally held over the years, but it was once again banned by the Sub-Governor’s Office of the District of Beyoğlu in a statement released on June 26, 2021, citing "indivisibility of the state, public morality and COVID-19 measures".

Following the above-mentioned decisions, on June 26, 2021, police officers in riot gear stationed in and around Taksim area, blocked access to the main street and attacked the group that had gathered, using plastic bullets and tear gas. At least 20 arrests of protesters were reported, including journalists covering the event. Agence France-Presse (AFP) photojournalist Bülent Kılıç was violently knocked to the ground by an officer who pressed his knee to his neck, preventing him from breathing, and his camera was damaged by the police. He was released from police custody after having been identified as a journalist, according to the authorities.

Since 2015, the Istanbul LGBTQI+ Pride March has been banned by the authorities on discriminatory and illegal grounds. Pride parades are practically forbidden by the authorities in Turkey, and the LGBTQI+ movement has found itself largely excluded from the public sphere. High-level State officials increasingly and openly use hateful language against the LGBTQI+ community in public discourse, and hate speech on media remains a major concern. The civic space has progressively shrunk over the years, especially since the attempted coup in July 2016, as the civil society and dissenting voices more broadly remain under serious repression in Turkey.

The rising anti-LGBTQI+ narrative is also proved to be detrimental to women’s rights in Turkey. The 19th Pride March took place against the backdrop of Turkey’s withdrawal from the Council of Europe Istanbul Convention by a mere presidential decision on March 20, 2021 based on anti-LGBTQI+ grounds. Women across Turkey took to the streets to denounce Turkey’s official withdrawal from the Convention on July 1, 2021, when the decision of withdrawal came in force. In some locations, including Istanbul’s Taksim area, protests took place under heavy police presence, and the police used tear gas and rubber bullets against women’s rights defenders.

The Observatory strongly condemns the violent aggression against peaceful protesters and journalists during the Pride March and the protests against Turkey’s withdrawal of the Istanbul Convention, and urges the Government of Turkey to put an end to the ongoing criminalisation and harassment of LGBTQI+ and women’s rights defenders as well as journalists in the country. The Observatory further calls on the authorities to uphold the right to freedom of peaceful assembly as protected by the Constitution of Turkey as well as by the international human rights law, and stop introducing disproportionate restrictions to the legitimate exercise of human rights by civil society and citizens of Turkey.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

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