Detentions as police break up Istanbul Pride parade

Police fire rubber bullets and tear gas on LGBT activists who attempted to hold march in defiance of ban by authorities.

Riot police disperse people as LGBT rights activists try to gather for a pride parade in central Istanbul TURKEY-LGBT/PRIDE Riot police disperse pe
The parade has been banned for three years in a row by Istanbul authorities [Reuters]

Turkish police have prevented LGBT activists from holding a parade in downtown Istanbul, organisers said, as small groups attempted to defy a ban by the local authorities.

The Istanbul governorship on Saturday prohibited the march, citing safety and public order concerns – but Pride organisers vowed to go on with the parade, despite warnings from ultranationalist groups who had threatened to block the event.

On Sunday, small groups gathered at various parts of central Istanbul, including Taksim Square, while a heavy police presence blocked entry to the nearby Istiklal Street where the march was supposed to take place, organisers and state media reports said.

Lara Guney Ozlen, a spokesperson for Pride Week, said police fired rubber bullets and tear gas on the LGBT activists amassing near the popular shopping street and its side roads. 

Parade organisers said members of the ultraconservative groups also showed up in Taksim Square, yet police prevented a face-off between the different groups.

At least 41 people, including both LGBT activists and members of the ultraconservative groups, were detained, according to the event’s organisers. The state-run Anadolu Agency put the number of those held at at least 20.

READ MORE: Istanbul LGBT march banned over ‘security concerns’

This year’s ban, which followed similar prohibitions in 2016 and 2015, was condemned by the parade’s organisers. 

“We are not scared, we are here, we will not change,” they said in a statement on Sunday. “You are scared … you will get used to it.”

Ozlen told Al Jazeera on Saturday that the reasons for the ban of the parade were not valid or convincing.

She said: “For the last two years, the march overlapped with Ramadan. This year it does not. So, that is not an excuse [to prevent it] either. I believe the ban is about not accepting our sexual orientation and it is a reaction to the movement getting stronger.”

Istanbul’s governorship said on Saturday that no proper application had been filed for the march – a statement denied by the organisers.

Long-held event

The Istanbul LGBTI Pride Week has been organised since 1993, ending with a march on Istiklal Street since 2003, according to its organisers.

The week consists of various events, such as discussion panels, workshops, social gatherings and art courses.

Organisers say the parade attracted tens of thousands of people until the early 2010s, making it the largest pride march in a Muslim-majority country.

Earlier in June, similar parades took place in Izmir, the largest city in western Turkey, the city of Kocaeli neighbouring Istanbul and the southern city of Mersin. The events passed peacefully without police intervention.

Homosexuality is not illegal in Turkey, but intolerance towards LGBT citizens exists in large parts of society.

Source: Al Jazeera