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Nineteen LGBTI+ rights defenders charged with “participating in unlawful assembly” and “resisting despite warning”

Status: 
On Trial
About the situation

The hearing for human rights defenders from METU LGBTI+ Solidarity, scheduled to take place on 30 April 2021, was postponed due to pandemic measures. The hearing is rescheduled for 16 July 2021.

On 10 December 2020, International Human Rights Day, 19 human rights defenders from METU LGBTI+ Solidarity appeared before Ankara 39th Panel Court of First Instance in the fourth hearing of the case, in which they are charged with violating the Law on Assemblies and Demonstrations. The human rights defenders were charged for their participation in a peaceful Pride march on the campus of Ankara’s Middle East Technical University (METU) on 10 May 2019. The hearing was expected to be the final hearing in the trial, however the prosecutor did not present his final opinion.

On 5 August 2019, 19 LGBTI+ rights defenders were informed of a criminal case that has been opened against them, relating to charges of “participating in unlawful assembly” and “resisting despite warning”; for their participation in the peaceful LGBTI+ Pride March which took place inside the campus of Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara on 10 May 2019.

On 10 May 2019, the police, invited by the Rectorate of the Middle East Technical University (METU), in Ankara, used pepper spray, plastic bullets and tear gas against students participating in a peaceful LGBTI+ Pride March taking place inside the campus. Twenty-one students and an academic were taken into police custody and released late at night.

About METU LGBTI+ Solidarity

The METU LGBTI+ Solidarity is a student group established in 1996, working to secure gender equality, eradicate the on-campus LGBTI+ phobia, and ensure that the university is a safe space for LGBTI+ people. In recent years, the Rectorate has been blocking the organisation of student events concerning LGBTI+ issues, including by cutting electricity, inviting the security forces to the campus or opening administrative investigations against the organisers. Despite that, every May since 2011, the METU LGBTI+ Solidarity has organised Pride Marches on campus.

METU LGBTI+ Solidarity

12 May 2021
Fifth hearing postponed due to COVID-19 measures

The hearing for human rights defenders from METU LGBTI+ Solidarity, scheduled to take place on 30 April 2021, was postponed due to pandemic measures. The hearing is rescheduled for 16 July 2021.

On 26 April 2021, President Erdoğan announced that Turkey will implement a lock-down from 29 April-17 May. Following the decision, the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors issued a statement on 27 April 2021, stating that in compliance with the government’s decision all judicial procedures except for urgent investigations, prosecutions or reviews, should be postponed until the end of the lock-down.

16 December 2020
No decision in fourth hearing of the METU LGBTI+ trial

On 10 December 2020, International Human Rights Day, 19 human rights defenders from METU LGBTI+ Solidarity appeared before Ankara 39th Panel Court of First Instance in the fourth hearing of the case, in which they are charged with violating the Law on Assemblies and Demonstrations. The human rights defenders were charged for their participation in a peaceful Pride march on the campus of Ankara’s Middle East Technical University (METU) on 10 May 2019. The hearing was expected to be the final hearing in the trial, however the prosecutor did not present his final opinion.

During the hearing, the defence called a witness who was at the campus to monitor the Pride march on behalf of Amnesty International Turkey. The witness told the court that there was no organised march or gathering taking place when the police attacked those preparing to participate in the peaceful march. According to the witness, on two occasions the police approached groups who were sitting on the ground painting banners or chatting, telling them that they were not allowed to sit there or display a [pride] flag, and the group dispersed without resisting. The witness explained how the police attacked students sitting at a cafe and on the grass, without warning. The witness concluded his testimony by saying that the group was attacked despite the fact they did not resist and that their right to peaceful assembly was violated and furthermore, they are the ones to stand on trial.

During their address, the defence lawyers referred to the Turkish Government’s response to a communication sent by UN experts in relation to the excessive use of force by police during the marches. The government response states that there was no official ban on the METU Pride March by the Governor, or “any other LGBTI+ activities” in Ankara, and that it was the university administration that banned the demonstration. The response also states that the police do not have the authority to enter the university, and emphasises that in Turkey, equality of all is guaranteed by the Constitution and discrimination is prohibited by law and in light of this legislation, “LGBTI+ people, like all other citizens, are not discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation”.

The human rights defenders reminded the court that they were on trial on International Human Rights Day for exercising their human rights and asked for the case to end as soon as possible with their acquittal.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled to take place on 30 April 2021.

14 November 2019
First hearing of 19 LGBTI+ rights defenders takes place

On 12 November 2019, the first hearing of 19 LGBTI+ rights defenders took place in Ankara’s 39th Penal Court of First Instance. The LGBTI+ defenders are charged with “participating in unlawful assembly” and “resisting despite warning” as a result of their participation in the 9th Pride March on METU’s campus on 10 May 2019.

Before the hearing, METU LGBTI+ Solidarity Group attempted to make a press statement in front of the court house. However, the police stopped the group and asked them to disperse.

The court requested a review of all video footage taken by the security forces during the march. The defenders’ request to investigate police conduct was refused by the court, which stated that they would have to submit their complaint to the prosecutor’s office. The next hearing will be held on 12 March 2020.

7 August 2019
Nineteen LGBTI+ rights defenders charged with “participating in unlawful assembly” and “resisting despite warning”

On 5 August 2019, 19 LGBTI+ rights defenders were informed of a criminal case that has been opened against them, relating to charges of “participating in unlawful assembly” and “resisting despite warning”; for their participation in the peaceful LGBTI+ Pride March which took place inside the campus of Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara on 10 May 2019.

Download the Urgent Appeal

The METU LGBTI+ Solidarity is a student group established in 1996, working to secure gender equality, eradicate on-campus LGBTI+ phobia, and ensure that the university is a safe space for LGBTI+ people. In recent years, the Rectorate has been prohibiting the organisation of student events concerning LGBTI+ issues, including by cutting electricity, inviting security forces to the campus, and opening administrative investigations against the organisers. METU LGBTI+ Solidarity has nonetheless organised Pride Marches on campus in a peaceful way every May since 2011.

In November 2017, under the state of emergency, a blanket indefinite ban on public events focused on LGBTI+ rights was issued in Ankara. Despite the end of emergency rule in July 2018, the Ankara Governor’s office did not lift the ban. On the contrary, on 3 October 2018, the Governor’s office informed law enforcement and other relevant authorities of a new ban, without giving any indication of when it would end.

On 19 April 2019, the Ankara Administrative Appeals Court lifted the ban introduced under the state of emergency, on the grounds that it was unlawful and restricted rights and freedoms in unconditional, vague, and disproportionate ways. The Court underlined the state’s duty to take security measures to protect peaceful assemblies and events, instead of banning them. Although the legal proceedings against the second ban remain ongoing, the Court’s decision to lift the ban imposed under the state of emergency demonstrates that the new ban issued on the same grounds is also manifestly unlawful.

On 6 May 2019, shortly before the METU Pride March, the university’s Rector, Mustafa Verşan Kök, had sent an email to all students, graduates, and faculty members, informing them that the Rectorate did not allow the event. He referred to the second ban on LGBTI+ events in Ankara and warned that the Rectorate would ask the Ankara Police to intervene if the event took place. When the event took place on 10 May 2019, the police, invited by the Rectorate, used pepper spray, plastic bullets and tear gas to disperse students. Twenty-one students and one professor were taken into police custody. They were all released later at night. Shortly after, the university opened administrative investigations against the students who participated to the METU LGBTI+ Pride March. On 5 August 2019, 19 LGBTI+ rights defenders were notified that a criminal case had been opened against them, related to the charges of “participating in unlawful assembly” and “resisting despite warning” for their participation in the Pride March. The first hearing of the case will be held on 12 November 2019.

Since the METU Pride March, LGBTI+ rights defenders in the university have been subjected to several attacks, including threats and insults on social media, judicial harassment and smear campaigns. The students from METU LGBTI+ Solidarity were labelled as “perverts” and “terrorists with secret agendas” on pro-government media with their photos and names periodically published.

In June 2019, following a letter sent by Ankara Provincial Directorate of Security, the Credit and Dormitory Directorate which is a public entity that provides scholarships and loans to students, decided to terminate all scholarships and loans of the students who participated to the METU LGBTI+ Pride March. While the exact number of students whose scholarships were terminated is unknown, a parliamentary question in regard to the numbers and the grounds of this decision is still pending.

On 30 June 2019, on the day of METU’s graduation ceremony, the houses of six students who had participated or supported METU LGBTI+ Pride March (two of them members of METU LGBTI+ Solidarity) were raided by heavily armed police officers from the Anti-Terror Branch at 5 am. Four of the students were present at home and taken into custody, and released at night after an interrogation. Two other students were interrogated in the following days. . During their interrogations, they were asked questions regarding their alleged relations to “terrorist organisations”, their sexual orientation, about protests they were allegedly planning to organise during the graduation ceremony, as well as whether they were planning “something like the Gezi protests” during the ceremony. The investigation remains ongoing but since it is confidential, the students do not have any further information about the accusations against them.

Front Line Defenders condemns the ongoing judicial harassment against the LGBTI+ rights defenders and the violation of the students’ right to freedom of assembly by the METU Rectorate, based on an unlawful ban on LGBTI+ events. Front Line Defenders believes that the students are being targeted solely as a result of exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, guaranteed under domestic and international law. Front Line Defenders is further concerned about the ongoing criminalisation and marginalisation of LGBTI+ rights defenders in Turkey, as well as the use of violence by the police against those exercising their right to freedom of assembly.

Front Line Defenders further calls on the METU Rectorate to refrain from actions violating the right to peaceful assembly of students defending LGBTI+ rights; to close the administrative investigations opened against the students; to ensure that the university is a safe space for LGBTI+ people and human rights defenders; to establish healthy communication channels with students and to consider the invitation of the police to the campus as a last resort reserved for the most extreme cases and only for the security of the students.

Front Line Defenders calls on the Turkish authorities to:
1. Immediately drop all charges and close the criminal investigation against the LGBTI+ rights defenders who participated in the METU Pride March,
2. Carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into the police brutality during the event, with a view to publishing the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards.
3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Turkey are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.

 

21 May 2019
METU Rectorate must stop violating right to peaceful assembly of students defending LGBTI+ rights

On 10 May 2019, the police, invited by the Rectorate of the Middle East Technical University (METU), in Ankara, used pepper spray, plastic bullets and tear gas against students participating in a peaceful LGBTI+ Pride March taking place inside the campus. Twenty-one students and an academic were taken into police custody and released late at night.

Download the Urgent Appeal

The METU LGBTI+ Solidarity is a student group established in 1996, working to secure gender equality, eradicate the on-campus LGBTI+ phobia, and ensure that the university is a safe space for LGBTI+ people. In recent years, the Rectorate has been blocking the organisation of student events concerning LGBTI+ issues, including by cutting electricity, inviting the security forces to the campus or opening administrative investigations against the organisers. Despite that, every May since 2011, the METU LGBTI+ Solidarity has organised Pride Marches on campus.

In November 2017, under the state of emergency, a blanket indefinite ban on public events focused on LGBTI+ issues was issued in Ankara. Despite the end of emergency rule in July 2018, the Ankara governor’s office did not lift the ban. On the contrary, on 3 October 2018, the governor’s office informed law enforcement and other relevant authorities about a new ban, without giving any indication of when it would end.

On 19 April 2019, an Ankara administrative Appeals Court lifted the ban introduced under the state of emergency, on the grounds that it was unlawful and restricted rights and freedoms in unconditional, vague, and disproportionate ways. The court underlined the state’s duty to take security measures to protect peaceful assemblies and events, instead of banning them. Although the legal proceedings against the second ban remain ongoing, the court’s decision to lift the ban imposed under the state of emergency shows that the new ban issued on the same grounds is also manifestly unlawful.

A few days prior to planned METU Pride March, on 6 May 2019 the university rector sent an e-mail to all students, graduates, and academics of METU, claiming that the Pride March was being organised by “various non-governmental organisations”, and informing them that the Rectorate would not allow for the event to be held. Further, the rector pointed to the ban on LGBTI+ events in Ankara and warned the students that the Rectorate would ask the Ankara police to intervene if the event took place. As reported by the students, the rector ignored their repeated requests for a meeting in order to find common grounds.

The METU LGBTI+ Solidarity announced on Twitter that the Pride March would be held no matter what. The LGBTIQ+ Rights Centre of the Ankara Bar Association applied to the Ankara 7th Administrative Court on behalf of the students and requested the suspension of the Rectorate’s decision. The Court rejected this request due to the statement by the Rectorate that no official administrative decision banning the event had been made and that the Rectorate had only shared their security concerns regarding the March. However, while in custody, the students were told that they had been detained for violating the ban of the Rectorate.

On 10 May 2019, several hours before the planned start of the march, a group of students and some academics started gathering on the campus to prepare for the event. The police invited by the Rectorate responded promptly using pepper spray, plastic bullets and tear gas against the Pride participants. The police continued dispersing the students in different parts of the campus until late afternoon. One student was shot in the head with a plastic bullet. Videos showing the police violence during the event were shared on the web on the same day.

The students also reported that many police officers were taking videos of them. According to the participants, during the event, there were many police officers in plain clothes on the campus. Twenty-one students and an academic from the university were taken into police custody for shouting slogans, carrying rainbow flags and taking pictures of the police intervention. They were all released late at night.

On 13 May 2019, the students held a symbolic “farewell ceremony” for the rector to demonstrate that they no longer recognised his authority. On 14 May 2019, many students did not attend classes to protest the violence against the Pride March. So far, no legal action has been taken against the police officers who used violence.

Front Line Defenders condemns the violation of the students’ right to freedom of assembly by the METU Rectorate, based on an unlawful ban on LGBTI+ events. Front Line Defenders believes that the students are being targeted solely as a result of exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, guaranteed under domestic and international law. Front Line Defenders is further concerned about the ongoing criminalisation and marginalisation of LGBTI+ rights defenders in Turkey, as well as the use of violence by the police against those exercising their right to freedom of assembly.

We call on the Turkish authorities to carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into the police brutality during the event, with a view to publishing the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards. We further call on the Turkish authorities to guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Turkey are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.