Paris-Geneva, July 6, 2023 – On June 25, the Pride Marches in Istanbul and Izmir were met with violent repression, arbitrary detentions and torture of protesters and lawyers by police forces, following a month of bans and attacks on LGBTQI+ related events across Turkey. The Observatory (FIDH-OMCT) denounces this crackdown on peaceful protesters and calls on the authorities to guarantee and respect the rights of LGBTQI+ people, defenders and organisations, as well as the rights to freedom of assembly and expression in the country.
June 25, 2023 marked the culmination of this year’s Pride Month repression in Turkey. On that day, police attacked Pride Marches in Istanbul and Izmir, which were held despite the bans imposed by the governor’s offices of the two cities on alleged grounds of “threatening the family institution” and “protection of public morality and public order”. In the previous years, domestic courts had found such bans to violate the right to freedom of assembly; however, the decisions came long after the marches were held, and did not prevent the government from continuously violating LGBTQI+ people’s right to freedom of assembly through the imposition of new bans every year.
In Istanbul, 113 people were detained during the 31st Pride March, including four lawyers present to monitor and intervene in rights violations during the march. In Izmir, 53 people were detained, including four lawyers. One of the lawyers, Gamze Şimşek, is a board member of the Izmir Bar Association. All the detentions were carried out violently and the police reportedly perpetrated acts of torture and ill-treatment against several protestors and lawyers.
At the time of publication of this Statement, all the people detained during the Pride Marches, except for five non-Turkish citizens detained in Istanbul, had been released. One person from Iran, a refugee with international protection status, was unlawfully transferred to the Urfa Removal Center despite being registered in Istanbul. According to the Istanbul branches of the Human Rights Association and the Association of Lawyers for Freedom, the Urfa Removal Center denied lawyers’ requests to meet with the detained refugee and restricted their communication with their family, in violation of procedural safeguards. Lawyers were only able to meet with their client on July 4. Shortly after, in a violation of the principle of non-refoulement, a deportation order was issued against the refugee from Iran, who could face death penalty because of their sexual orientation if deported to their country of origin. Lawyers have objected to the deportation order. Another detained person from Australia suffered a serious leg injury and was not provided with medical care for four days. They were first transferred to the Tuzla Removal Center in Istanbul and later to the Erzurum Aşkale 2nd Removal Center. A Russian citizen, a Libyan citizen and a South African/Portuguese citizen are also kept at removal centers. Two of them could face the risk of deportation despite threat to their safety if returned to Russia or Libya. Lawyers are unable to access information about their status as the Removal Centers deny any meetings allegedly due to the Eid break, even though the break is over.
These attacks are taking place against a backdrop of widespread repression on the LGBTQI+ community and organisations and bans on all LGBTQI+ related events throughout the country in the past month. Picnics, Pride Marches and panels at universities and other public places, a movie screening and a “tea & talk” event at a café were banned in several cities and districts including in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Kocaeli, Eskişehir, Aydın, and Muğla. According to the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, at least nine protests and events have been violently dispersed throughout Pride Month, and a total of 205 people have been detained (including those in Istanbul and Izmir Pride Marches). These bans and attacks follow constant targeting of the LGBTQI+ community by President Erdoğan, ministers and other high-level government officials as well as right-wing politicians during the May 2023 election period. President Erdoğan targeted LGBTQI+ people in his victory speech after the second round of the presidential elections.
The restrictions on LGBTQI+ events and attacks against human rights defenders in Turkey are not new. The Istanbul Pride March has been banned since 2015 on discriminatory and illegal grounds, and each year, peaceful protesters who gather to defend LGBTQI+ rights are attacked by the authorities. In 2022, a record of 373 people were detained during the Istanbul Pride March. The same year, Turkey ranked 48th out of 49 European countries in terms of achieving equality and human rights for LGBTQI+ people, according to ILGA-Europe’s 2023 Rainbow Europe country ranking.
The Observatory strongly condemns the relentless attacks against peaceful protesters, lawyers and LGBTQI+ rights defenders, and recalls that the authorities in Turkey are bound by their national Constitution and international human rights law to uphold the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in the country, and urges them to respect the principle of non refoulement.
The Observatory urges the authorities in Turkey to put an immediate end to the ongoing criminalisation and harassment of LGBTQI+ people and LGBTQI+ rights defenders in the country, and ensure their safety and well-being.
The Observatory further calls on the authorities in Turkey to include sexual orientation and sexual identity as bases of discrimination in the legislation of Turkey and ensure that LGBTQI+ people are equally protected under the law from violence and discrimination.