Turkish police resort to using tear gas, rubber bullets to dispel Pride parade

Istanbul: At least 20 people were detained in Turkey as riot police resorted to using tear gas and rubber bullets to disrupt the annual Pride parade, intensifying a crackdown on the march at a time of rising government hostility toward LGBTQ individuals in the country.

The Istanbul governor’s office had refused to grant a permit for the parade, which has been held since 2003 but banned for the last seven years. However, hundreds of people, many waving rainbow flags, marched Saturday in the city’s historical Beyoglu district, while the police prevented them from congregating on Istiklal Avenue, a hub for shopping and tourism, Washington Post reported.

“Rainbow is not a crime — discrimination is,” the marchers chanted.

The latest crackdown came during a troublesome year for gay and transgender people in Turkey, marked by increasingly strident official discrimination, according to advocacy groups.

Some of the loudest government denunciations came in February, when officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkey’s interior minister, seized on student protests at a prominent Istanbul university to attack LGBTQ individuals.

“There is no such thing as LGBT. This country is national, spiritual and walking toward the future with these values,” Erdogan said during an address to members of his party in February, which drew criticism from US President Joe Biden’s administration.

Earlier this year, the government also withdrew from the Istanbul Convention, a European Union (EU) treaty aimed at preventing violence against women, justifying the withdrawal in part by claiming that the agreement was “normalising” homosexuality.

The Istanbul Convention is a human rights accord backed by the Council of Europe. Turkey was the first country to ratify the convention, which was adopted in Istanbul in 2011.

“Anti-LGBT speeches and social media posts by top government officials have become common,” Human Rights Watch wrote in a report in March, criticising the Turkish government’s alleged assault on rights and democracy.

More recently, the government has also pointed to coronavirus-related safety protocols and security concerns towards banning LGBTQ celebrations, but advocates say those justifications ignore what is effectively a targeted crackdown against minority groups, reported Washington Post.