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Police violently disrupted Istanbul's pride parade for the 3rd consecutive year

Event organizers say more than 40 people have been arrested.

A Turkish plain-clothes police officer kicking an LGBTQ activist who tried to carry on with a Pride parade despite a government ban
A Turkish plain-clothes police officer kicking an LGBTQ activist who tried to carry on with a Pride parade despite a government ban
Bulent Kilic / Getty Images

Early hopes that LGBTQ activists in Turkey would be able to peacefully organize a Pride parade for the first time in three years have been decisively and violently dashed.

On Saturday, the government banned the event for the third successive year. Activists pledged to push on with the march as they had tried to do in 2015 and 2016, using a hashtag for “We March” in Turkish to establish solidarity. On Sunday, more than 100 people gathered with banners and drums, coming face to face with riot police armed with police dogs, plastic shields, and armored helmets.

Police eventually dispersed the crowds with tear gas and rubber bullets, just as they did the past two years. There have been no reports on whether participants were injured by the police, though event organizers said at least 40 people have been detained, including Associated Press journalist Bram Janssen, who has since been released.

A squad of Turkish police officers with gas masks and guns
Turkish police used tear gas and rubber bullets to break up crowds like they did in 2016
Ozan Kose / Getty Images

A peaceful parade broken up by violence

Homosexuality is not illegal in Turkey, though homophobia is increasingly common. The formerly secular country has seen a rise of conservative Islamic forces in recent years, led perhaps by the election of the Islamic Justice and Development party under hardline President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

This year’s pride parade was expected to be another flashpoint between the country’s religious and secular communities, especially since it coincided with the first day of Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan.

Earlier this week, activists were hopeful they would get to hold the event in peace since the government hadn’t released any official statement banning them from doing so, as they had in 2015 and 2016.

They were disappointed on Saturday when the government released a statement that read: "The march will not be allowed after considering the security of citizens, especially the participants themselves, and tourists who will be in the area.”

The government also said that activists did not formally apply for a permit to stage the parade, though organizers said they did.

While the statement didn’t identify what or who posed a danger to participants, various right-wing organizations have made explicit threats of violence against LGBTQ rights activists in the lead-up to this Sunday.

“If the state allows [the parade], we will not. We will not allow them to walk,” Kürşat Mican, head of the right-wing Islamic group Alperen Hearths, said on national TV last week.

Organizers of the parade said that while they were well aware of these threats, they didn’t buy the argument that the government was banning the event to protect participants.

"The true reason for the reactions toward a march that took place in peace for 12 years is hate," organizers said in a statement. "Our security cannot be provided by imprisoning us behind walls, asking us to hide. Our security will be provided by recognizing us in the constitution, by securing justice, by equality and freedom."

Leading up to Sunday, the threat of governmental crackdown was palpable in light of Erdoğan’s increasing authoritarianism: Last month, the president declared the indefinite continuation of a state of emergency, which allows police officers to arrest and jail people without due process.

Eleven activists who were arrested at last year’s pride parade were acquitted this past week, reports say. But now, given Erdoğan’s increasing intolerance for dissidents, it’s not clear that those arrested at this Sunday’s march — more than 40, according to organizers — will be as lucky.