Image by naeim a from Pixabay

Eighteen students are set to go on trial for organising a peaceful Pride protest last year in Turkey.

Annual Pride marches are common at Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara, however in 2019 a group of Turkish students were told they were not allowed to go ahead with their scheduled pro-LGBTQ+ events.

The students were told they were unable to fly a rainbow flag, to sit on the lawn, or stand under tents, and were later prevented from reading out a statement in favour of the LGBTQ+ community.

Now, eighteen students and one academic at Ankara’s Middle East Technical University are set to go on trial for staging a sit-in, which was violently broken up by police and over 20 students were arrested.

Fotis Filippou, Campaigns Director for Europe at Amnesty International, condemned the aggressive intervention of the sit-in last year.

“It is heartbreaking to hear that today’s Pride march, which should have been a celebration of love and solidarity, was so violently broken up by police using pepper spray, plastic bullets and tear gas,” Filippou said.

“Amnesty International condemns the police intervention to break up this celebration of pride on the METU campus today. Reports of excessive use of force by the police must be urgently investigated.

“It is a dark day when university authorities call the police to silence students who are simply demanding their rights to dignity and equality. All those detained by police must be released immediately and unconditionally.”

The LGBTI+ Solidarity Group at Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara have held Pride events since 2011 which increasingly grew in support.

Concerns have risen, as while Pride events at the university continued to grow in size, the backlash of  homophobia and restrictions on freedom of expression in Turkey has also grown.

While legally exercising their right to peacefully protest, the 18 students and one academic official are set to go on trial. The protesters have been formally charged with “participating in an unlawful assembly” and “failing to disperse despite being warned”. If they are found guilty, they will each face three years in prison.

In support of the students, celebrities and influencers such as Travis Alabanza, Riyadh Khalaf and Matty Healy have been posting awareness-raising messages on their social media channels under the hashtag #LoveIsOnTrial.

Nils Muižnieks, Amnesty International’s Europe Director addressed the current situation in a statement: “Against the backdrop of increasing homophobia in Turkey, METU students and staff have marched through their campus each year to celebrate Pride, and demand equality and dignity for LGBTQ+ people.

“The only just outcome in the unfair prosecution of 19 human rights defenders for their participation in a peaceful Pride march is their wholesale acquittal.”