September 3, 2019
On Saturday 24th of August, the Kadiköy district governorate of Istanbul banned the third edition of the “Queer Olympix”, a pro-LGBTI+ sporting event. The authorities stated the need to prevent possible crimes, to protect public health, public order and public morality as official reasons for the ban. This is the first time ever this event is cancelled.
This news comes at the end of a very troubled Pride season in Turkey.
In May, the pride parade organised at the Middle East Technical University (METU) of Ankara was banned by the rector, even though a court decision of April 2019 lifted the blanket ban on all LGBTI+ events, which was in place in the capital city since November 2017. Nevertheless, students gathered to celebrate Pride and were dispersed by the police using tear gas and shooting rubber bullets, and 25 students were detained.
In June, the governorship of Antalya banned the 3rd LGBTI+ Pride Week and all related events for 15 days, effectively banning not only the Pride march, but also any demonstration, activity or other form of public dissent to this decision. In the same days, the governorate of Izmir banned the Pride Week, and on June 22nd several activists were detained after reading a public statement over the pride ban. Similarly, the Pride Week celebrations planned in the southern city of Mersin on July 1st-7th were suspended due to a 20 days ban by the governorship.
On June 30th, the Istanbul Pride March was not allowed to take place in central Taksim district, but a rally of several hundred people still took place in a side street. The organisers of the march reached an agreement with the police allowing them to read a public statement, but the demonstrators were dispersed with tear gas and rubber bullets soon after the statement was read. Istanbul Pride has taken place regularly for over a decade, but was last allowed in 2014, when it attracted an impressive 100.000 people. This is therefore the fifth year that the Pride March is banned in Turkey’s biggest metropole.
The recurring motivations for these bans cite social sensitivities, protecting public health and morality, protecting other people’s rights and freedoms, national safety, public order and decency. In past years, Turkish authorities also made use of the state of emergency law in order to prevent LGBTI+ events from happening. Turkey declared a state of emergency on July 20th, 2016 after a failed military coup to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The state of emergency was lifted in July 2018, and this was therefore the first Pride season to happen since then, but few or no improvements have been made in comparison to previous years.
Banning LGBTI+ activities fosters homophobia, marginalises the queer community, prevents any form of cooperation between authorities and activists, and creates a climate of intimidation and hostility towards LGBTI+ people. Nevertheless, banning LGBTI+ events is only one of the forms of discrimination and marginalisation that the queer community experience in Turkey. In May ILGA-Europe published Rainbow Europe 2019, the annual benchmarking tool, which ranks 49 countries in Europe on their LGBTI+ equality laws and policies. With a percentage score of 5.16, Turkey was ranked 48th out of 49 countries, followed only by Azerbaijan.
As a member of the Council of Europe, Turkey should respect its international standards. Freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association are enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights (Articles 10 and 11), which has been ratified by all Council of Europe member states. The European Court of Human Rights have ruled in several cases that limitations of the freedom of assembly of the LGBTI+ community on grounds of morals, health or security goes against the ECHR. Moreover, several recommendations of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities as well as of the Committee of Ministers call on the member states to ensure the fundamental rights of LGBTI+ people, especially the freedom of expression and the freedom of assembly and association.
In line with its current Strategic Plan, AEGEE-Europe strives to tackle discrimination based on gender identity, expression and sexual orientation. Furthermore, AEGEE-Europe stands for a diverse and borderless Europe, where people do not face discrimination or exclusion on arbitrary grounds.
Therefore, AEGEE-Europe demands that:
- International standards set by the Council of Europe on matters of LGBTI+ rights, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are respected.
- Civil society organisations and student groups advancing the rights of LGBTI+ people are supported and listened to by relevant authorities.
- National, regional and local authorities condemn homophobia and transphobia.
Moreover, AEGEE-Europe supports the LGBTI+ community in Turkey in their struggle for the recognition of their fundamental rights. In particular, AEGEE-Europe is on the side of its member organisations in Turkey and its individual Turkish volunteers who strive for human rights and social inclusion.