ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish police blocked hundreds of people from gathering for Istanbul’s annual Pride parade on Sunday and detained dozens after local authorities banned the march from going ahead again this year.
Thousands of people used to attend Pride marches on Istanbul’s main Istiklal Avenue but in recent years the government led by President Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted AK Party has toughened its stance on LGBTQ+ freedom.
Homosexuality is not a crime in Turkey, but hostility to it is widespread and the police crackdown on the parades have been increasingly tougher over the years.
On Sunday, police in riot gear prevented access to Taksim Square and blockaded many streets in the nearby Cihangir neighbourhood, where people tried convene. Public transportation in the area was also shut down.
Local authorities in the Beyoglu district banned all Pride Week events between June 20-26, saying they could lead to public unrest due to society’s sensitivities.
The Istanbul Bar Association said peaceful demonstrations cannot be banned.
Small groups of people carrying rainbow and transgender flags gathered briefly where they could on Sunday and chanted slogans before police dispersed and chased them through the streets, forcibly detaining some.
“Discrimination is a crime, the rainbow is not,” one group chanted, while some others read statements to mark Pride week.
Last year Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu labeled some university students “LGBT deviants”, while Erdogan praised his party’s youth wing for not being “LGBT youth”.
Student from the Middle East Technical University in Ankara were prosecuted for attending Pride marches in universities but were acquitted.
A trial against Istanbul’s Bogazici University students over an image that combined Islamic imagery and rainbow flags displayed during an art exhibition on campus is ongoing.
(Reporting by Umit Bektas, Bulent Usta and Ali Kucukgocmen, Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)