Turkish police violently arrest and ‘torture’ Istanbul Pride organisers during peaceful protest

Police and istanbul Prude organisers square off

Turkish police brutally beat and allegedly “tortured” nearly a dozen LGBTQ+ activists in Istanbul who were simply celebrating the start of Pride Month.

On 5 June, members of İstanbul LGBTİ+ Onur Haftası, which organises Istanbul Pride, gathered in the Yeldeğirmeni neighbourhood of the Kadıköy district to read a statement welcoming the start of Pride.

But as activists came together to celebrate 30 years of Istanbul Pride at around 6.30pm, a wave of police swept over the street. Hundreds of officers wielding riot shields proceeded to arrest 11 LGBTQ+ campaigners, according to video footage shared by İstanbul LGBTİ+ Onur Haftası.

Officers from Turkey’s national police force, the General Directorate of Security, were joined by the Çevik Kuvvet riot squad to squash the peaceful protest.

Activists and onlookers alike booed as people were escorted into police vans. Cordons of police lined the street and raised their shields up high in an attempt to prevent bystanders from seeing officers handcuffing and shoving activists.

Remaining defiant, Pride organisers and other campaign groups continued to raise intersex-inclusive Progress flags and heckle even as police detained them.

“Istanbul LGBTI+ Pride week is 30th [sic] years old. Police attacked and arrested LGBTI+ people who met in Yeldegirmeni streets in Istanbul- Kadikoy to celebrate Pride Month,” İstanbul LGBTİ+ Onur Haftası tweeted.

“Queer pride will defeat police torture! Istanbul Pride March countdown just begun! This year to we will resist!”

Members of İstanbul LGBTİ+ Onur Haftası, as well as two members of Trans+ Korteji, were arrested by police that evening. Trans+ Korteji claimed that, while in custody at the Vatan Police Station, officers “tortured” activists and shared alarming photographs of their heavily bruised wrists and legs.

Those arrested were all released later that evening.

With the theme of “resistance” 2022’s Istanbul Pride parade is scheduled for 26 June. But how police crushed a small gathering was a troubling forewarning of what the coming weeks will be like for LGBTQ+ people.

Istanbul Pride’s parades attracted hundreds of thousands of attendees for 13 years before the governate of Istanbul banned LGBTQ+ Pride events in 2015. Each year since city officials have invented reasons to prohibit the parade, such as “safety concerns” or COVID-19 restrictions, all but going in the face of Turks’ constitutional right to hold a peaceful protest without prior permission.

Yet activists refuse to back down and march anyway – and they have their reasons to. President Tayyip Erdoğan’s government has shamelessly sought to paint LGBTQ+ as “perverts” or claim they don’t even exist as they tear away at what little rights LGBTQ+ people have in Turkey.

In one of the most violent crackdowns yet, 2021 Istanbul Pride saw a shower of rubber bullets and tear gas strike LGBTQ+ Pride-goers. Around 20 were detained.

İstanbul LGBTİ+ Onur Haftası knows that this year won’t be any different. In the statement the group intended to read out on 5 June, organisers hoped to say that Pride is not only a celebration but is and always will be a protest.

“We LGBTIQA+ people are on the streets again. Our voices, laughter, and slogans echo in these streets. We are here with our identities, orientations, queerness, and all our existences,” the statement said according to the Turkish press agency Bianet.

“We are strong together, we continue to exist,” İstanbul LGBTİ+ Onur Haftası added. “Happy Pride.”