Amnesty International has launched the #loveisontrial campaign, calling for the acquittal of 19 people who are facing prison time in Turkey for organising student Pride on their university campus.
Turkish students Melike & Özgür were simply defending their right to celebrate #Pride when they were arrested. 🌈They could now face up to three years in prison. @GCNmag joins in calling on @abdulhamitgul to ensure they are acquitted at their trial on April 30. #LoveIsOnTrial pic.twitter.com/kjqSiCql8H
— Gay Community News (@GCNmag) April 26, 2021
The LGBTQI+ Solidarity Group at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, established by students in 1996, aims to create a safe space for queer people on campus and advocate for their rights. Against the backdrop of increasing queerphobia in Turkey, METU students have marched every year to celebrate Pride and demand equality.
Among them are student activists, Melike Balkan and Özgür Gür, who have helped organise student Pride marches and defend LGBTQ+ rights on campus. Özgür explained the importance of this work, saying “We have to understand what Pride means to people. At Pride, you get to be yourself, your full self. That’s an important feeling and it has a healing power.”
However, in 2019 the university management announced that the Pride march was not permitted to go ahead as planned. In protest to this decision, the Solidarity Group staged a Pride sit-in instead.
The university called the police about the sit-in and the peaceful protesters were met with excessive force including tear gas. At least 23 students and an academic were detained, several of whom had not even taken part in the protest.
Now the academic and 18 students, including Melike and Özgür, are facing up to three years in prison because of their activism. Although the universities ban on Pride has since been ruled unlawful in administrative court, the protesters are still being charged with “unlawful assembly” and “failing to disperse despite being warned”. Their trial is due to take place on April 30.
Turkish students Melike & Özgür were simply defending their right to celebrate Pride when they were arrested 🏳️🌈
— Union of Students in Ireland (@TheUSI) April 26, 2021
The trial is not an isolated incident as persecution of LGBTQ+ people is a growing problem in Turkey. There are no federal laws protecting queer and trans people from discrimination and restrictions on LGBTQ+ expression is a nationwide concern.
Istanbul Pride has been banned for several years and in 2019, people attempting to march were met with teargas. Just earlier this year, President Erdogan said “there is no such thing” as LGBTQ+ people.
We are calling on @abdulhamitgul to ensure that the 19 LGBTQ+ activists on trial for their participation in a peaceful Pride Protest @METU_ODTU in 2019 are acquitted at their trial on April 30th. #LoveIsOnTrial
— Dublin LGBTQ+ Pride (@DublinPride) April 26, 2021
LGBTQ+ activists around the world are joining Amnesty’s campaign and calling on the Turkish Minister for Justice Abdulhamit Gül to ensure that the Pride defenders are acquitted of all charges.
The Union of Students in Ireland, Dublin Pride and GCN are among the Irish organisations speaking out about the issue. Worldwide, over 40,000 people have taken action in the lead up to the trial. In the words of Melike Balkan “March with us … not just in the good times…because we need your support.”
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