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Human Rights Groups Ask Turkey to Drop Charges Against LGBTQ Activists

Istanbul Pride March

19 people were arrested during a police raid on a Pride march in Ankara.

Eighteen students and one faculty staff member of Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara, Turkey, are due to stand trial on Tuesday after being arrested during a Pride march in May.

Now, human rights groups are asking Turkey to drop the charges against them, reports the Guardian.

"The defenders were practising their right to assembly and standing up for the rights of others in a peaceful manner when the police attacked and arrested them," said Bjorn van Roozendaal, programmes director for the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA-Europe), which joined Civil Rights Defenders, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and the Front Line Defenders in demanding justice for the individuals.

In November 2017, the Ankara governor's office imposed an indefinite ban on public LGBTQ events. Although an Ankara court lifted the ban in February, university officials still warned METU students and employees that it applied to the May Pride march.

When campus organizers held the event anyway, police used plastic bullets, tear gas, and pepper spray to break up the crowd, according to Amnesty International. Twenty-two people were arrested; charges of "participating in unlawful assembly" and "resisting without warning" were levied against 19.

"It is a dark day when university authorities call the police to silence students who are simply demanding their rights to dignity and equality," Fotis Filippou, campaigns director for Europe at Amnesty International, said in a statement following the march.

"We would like to remind the authorities that the state's duty is to take security measures to protect peaceful assemblies and events, not ban them. The government should carry out a thorough and impartial investigation into the excessive use of force during the event, instead of prosecuting the human rights defenders," said Civil Rights Defenders, International Federation for Human Rights, Front Line Defenders and ILGA-Europe in the joint statement.

The Guardian notes that officials banned LGBTQ Pride in Istanbul starting in 2015, "and have since strongly opposed LGBT events." In June, police officers fired pepper spray, rubber bullets, and tear gas at Pride marchers in the city, inciting outrage from local activists.

Other human rights groups have pointed out that as a member of the Council of Europe, Turkey should be moving to protect its LGBTQ residents, not to punish them. "Restrictions on freedoms of expression, assembly, and association for LGBTI people in Turkey not only violate those fundamental human rights, but place Turkey in violation of its international obligations," said Human Rights Watch in 2018.

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