Under the guise of ‘protecting’ LGBT people, police in Istanbul today broke up a pride march by briefly firing rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.
The BBC reports that organisers of the annual event had vowed to press ahead despite a ban by the authorities, who had cited threats from far-right groups.
This is the third year in a row that Turkey’s largest city has banned the Gay Pride rally. Turkey’s descent into Islamic fundamentalism is seen by many as the main reason for the banning of the event.
The BBC’s Mark Lowen said the heavy police presence stopped people from entering Istiklal Street, where the rally was scheduled to start.
He reported that anybody trying to unfurl a rainbow flag or pass police blockades was prevented from doing so.
Faced with armed police and water-cannon trucks, the marchers had no chance.
The Hurriyet newspaper said that at least ten people had been detained, and the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf tweeted that a Dutch cameraman, Bram Janssen, was among those arrested.
Earlier today, the Gay Pride organising committee issued a statement saying:
For more than a decade the event passed off peacefully in Turkey – tens of thousands used to throng Istiklal Street.
We are not scared, we are here, we will not change. You are scared, you will change and you will get used to it. We are here again to show that we will fight in a determined fashion for our pride.
Representatives of some European governments were in Istanbul to support the event. They stressed that Turkey, still a candidate for EU membership, must respect minority rights.
But, said Mark Lowen:
The criticism is likely to fall on deaf ears among an increasingly conservative government. For long, Turkey was a haven of gay rights in the Middle East. But the Islamist-leaning President Erdogan is accused by critics of moulding Turkey in his image and ostracising the secular, liberal side of the country.
Lara Ozlen, from the organising committee, told AFP news agency on Saturday:
It is obvious that a peaceful march is part of our constitutional right. It’s been known for years. Instead of protecting us, to say ‘do not march’ just because some will be disturbed is undemocratic.
On Sunday, the Dutch consulate in Istanbul unfurled a large rainbow flag in support of the Pride event.
In addition to citing the threats of far-right groups, city officials said they had not received a formal request to hold the march – a claim denied by the organisers.
This year’s event also coincides with the end of the Muslim “holy” month of Ramadan and the start of the Eid al-Fitr festival.
Last year, riot police fired tear gas and plastic bullets after transgender rights activists gathered in Istanbul –in defiance of a ban on marching.