Turkey is prosecuting 18 students and one academic for their participation in a Pride event at a local university last year. If convicted, they face up to three years in prison. The trials are set for Thursday.
Pride and all other LGBTQ+ events have been banned in Turkey since 2014, but a court lifted the ban and allowed last year's event to take place. Still, police ignored the ruling and responded violently to those in attendance.
"In the summer of 2019, students and others peacefully participating in a celebration of love and solidarity were met with police pepper spray, plastic bullets and tear gas," Nils Muiznieks, Europe director for Amnesty International, said in a statement. "Nineteen of them have also been dragged through the courts on baseless criminal charges and face absurd jail sentences."
The 19 individuals have been charged with participating in an unlawful assembly and failing to disperse when ordered to do so.
The event at Middle Eastern Technical University in Ankara had been ruled legal by the Ankara Administrative Appeals Court, but according to reports, hardline authorities at the university called police to break up the event anyway.
Multiple videos show students were then assaulted with tear gas, pepper spray, plastic bullets, and random acts of unprovoked violence.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had successfully banned all Pride events since 2014 using special emergency authority granted to him under a state of emergency. The ban on Pride was ruled invalid by the courts last year, and that decision was reaffirmed again in June of this year. Despite these rulings, the prosecutions are proceeding.
While being LGBTQ+ is technically legal in Turkey, Erdogan's policies and his alignment with religious conservatives threaten the community. Members of the ruling AKP party have also proposed a series of bills that would further tighten control on social media and elsewhere.
Amnesty International is leading the fight against the prosecution with its flagship Write for Rights campaign launched in November. As part of the process, individuals are given a link to send an email to Turkish authorities protesting the unlawful arrests and demanding the acquittal of the 19 charged.
"The ban of the Pride march lacked legal grounds and these brave students who defied it had their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly violated," said Muiznieks. "They must be acquitted."
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