In a statement issued today, Amnesty International voiced its dismay at the unwarranted ban on the annual Pride March in Istanbul, describing it as “a new low.” The statement also noted the use of excessive force by the police in suppressing the march, saying that “police arbitrarily used force against peaceful demonstrators attempting to celebrate Pride, who were targeted with water cannon, tear gas and pepper-ball projectiles.”
Thousands of police were on duty ahead of the planned start of the march at 5pm. The first police intervention to disperse the demonstrators took place at around 4.30pm, by which time an estimated group of up to 5,000 people had assembled in the immediate area. Police sporadically used tear gas, water cannon and pepper-spray pellets against peaceful crowds and small groups of demonstrators and revellers attempting to celebrate the pride throughout the afternoon and evening across the Taksim area.
The statement highlighted also highlighted that this crackdown came despite a long-standing tradition of peaceable Pride Marches in Istanbul:
The events are the latest testament to the authority’s intolerance of peaceful protest, which fly in the face of Turkey’s obligations to uphold the right to peaceful assembly. The Turkish authorities should launch prompt, independent and impartial investigations into the use of force by police and commit to ensuring that future Pride marches can take place.
Pride marches have taken place in Istanbul annually since 2003 and have passed without incident, with an estimated 90,000 taking part in 2014. The authority’s previous respect for the right of Lesbian, Bisexual, gay, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people to hold the annual Pride march in Istanbul was in stark contrast to their use of homophobic rhetoric and refusal to prohibit discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in law, a longstanding demand of lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) groups in Turkey.
Amnesty also noted that “the Pride ban came just two days after the Turkish authorities had pledged to the UN Human Rights Council to uphold the right to peaceful assembly and the rights of LGBTI individuals during its Universal Periodic Review (UPR).”
Currently there are 45 cases pending execution in the Oya Ataman group of cases where European Court of Human Rights has found Turkey to have violated the right to peaceful assembly. This latest denial of the right to peaceful protest yet again underlines the need for the Turkish authorities to adopt a wholly different approach to street demonstrations, to re-draft its overly restrictive law regarding assemblies and to end the routine excessive use of police force at demonstrations.
St. Lawrence University