Turkish students, lecturer on trial for banned LGBTI march

Defendants face up to 3 years in prison if convicted of 'unlawful assembly and protest' at annual event in Ankara.

    Turkish students, lecturer on trial for banned LGBTI march
    Police officers arrive at a court in Ankara to supervise the trial on Tuesday [AFP]

    Eighteen Turkish students and a lecturer on Tuesday have gone on trial for taking part in a banned LGBTI Pride event at an Ankara-based university on May 10.

    The defendants, who were arrested but have been free pending trial, face up to three years in prison if convicted of "unlawful assembly and protest" and "refusing to disperse"."

    One of the 18 students also faces up to two years for insulting a police officer with hand gestures.

    No verdict was given in the latest trial and the case was adjourned to March 12.

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    Homosexuality has been legal throughout modern Turkey's history, but lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersexual individuals face regular harassment and abuse.

    The pride event at the prestigious Middle East Technical University in the capital has taken place every May since 2011.

    But university bosses banned this year's event and police used pepper spray, plastic bullets and tear gas to break it up.

    Officials from several European embassies, including Denmark, and an opposition politician attended the packed hearing.

    Lawyers and rights groups urged the court to immediately acquit the defendants.

    "The ban of the Pride march lacks legal grounds, and these brave students and others who defied it had their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly violated," Sara Hall of Amnesty International said in a statement.

    Police did not allow supporters to read a statement outside the court.

    'No legal grounds'

    Defendant Melike Irem Balkan told the court there were "no legal grounds" for banning the event, noting that it has taken place "peacefully" in previous years.

    Another defendant, Ozgur Mehmet Gur, was defiant, telling the court: "Every step we take is a Pride march. Our existence is a Pride march. You cannot ban the Pride march."

    Academic Mehmet Mutlu said he attended the event only "to protect my students from the officers' violent behaviour" and that his detention was "wrong".

    The Ankara governor's office banned all LGBTI events in November 2017, saying they could "provoke reactions" in society, but the ruling was overturned by a court in the capital in April.

    Turkish government officials rarely comment on the LGBT community in the country.

    In a televised interview in August, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu expressed his concern about the LGBT movement becoming "widespread and justifiable" in Turkey.

    He also claimed that some European countries and political parties in Turkey were working towards that goal.

    "It is impossible for us to accept this (LGBT community), according to our religion, beliefs, customs and traditions," he said.

    LGBTI events have faced mixed fortunes under the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

    Istanbul's Pride march in 2014 was one of the biggest LGBTI events ever seen in the Muslim-majority region, but authorities in the city have banned it ever since and used tear gas to break up the latest event in June.

    ILGA-Europe, an umbrella organisation for LGBTI groups, called for "a thorough and impartial investigation into the excessive use of force" against the Pride marchers.

    It places Turkey in the bottom of three European countries, alongside Armenia and Azerbaijan, for equality laws and policies.

    SOURCE: AFP news agency