June 28, 2015 at 3:45 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Turkish police crack down on Istanbul Pride

Istanbul Pride, gay news, Washington Blade

Istanbul Pride in 2012. Police used tear gas and water cannons against marchers during this year’s event that took place on June 28, 2015. (Photo by Lubunya; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Turkish police on Sunday used tear gas and water cannons against people who were about to take part in a Pride march in Istanbul.

The Istanbul LGBTI Pride Committee in a press release said local authorities announced “at the last minute” that they had banned the event — which had been scheduled to start in Taksim Square at 5 p.m. local time — because of Ramadan.

The group said that police then began to use pepper spray, plastic bullets and water cannons against the participants. The Istanbul LGBTI Pride Committee noted the authorities also deployed militarized police vehicles.

Nicholas Sakurai, director of leadership initiatives at the University of Maryland’s LGBT Equity Center who uses gender neutral pronouns, told the Washington Blade in an email from Istanbul where they are on vacation that they saw police officers beating two people with batons “who didn’t immediately get out of their way.” Sakurai said another police officer “raised a baton in a physical threat” to someone who was recording the crackdown.

Sakurai told the Blade the police also blocked off dozens of streets in the area that is popular with tourists. Sakurai said they also breathed in tear gas while trying to walk to their friend’s hotel.

“It felt like pure oppression and an attack on the LGBTI community,” said Sakurai. “But the community stayed strong and there was a huge amount of queer visibility, with many people out with their pride flags and rainbow accoutrements all over the place.”

Lady Gaga is among those who have criticized the crackdown.

ILGA-Europe Executive Director Evelyne Paradis described the crackdown as “highly regrettable.”

“ILGA-Europe condemn this unprovoked violation of the right to freedom of assembly by the Turkish government and the police,” she said in a statement.

This year’s Pride took place less than a month after President Recept Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party lost its majority in the Turkish Parliament.

The Peoples’ Democratic Party, which supports LGBT rights in the predominantly Muslim country, gained 80 seats in Parliament. Twenty-two candidates who signed a pledge to support rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Turks also won their respective races.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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