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Turkish court acquits students for attending Pride march

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By Reuters

ISTANBUL – A Turkish court on Friday acquitted all 19 defendants charged over their participation in an LGBT+ Pride march on a university campus, saying their actions did not constitute a crime.

Most of the 18 students and a faculty member from the Middle East Technical University (METU) had been charged with “refusing to disperse” after being arrested at the Pride march in 2019 by police, who used pepper spray, plastic bullets and tear gas.

After a failed military coup in Turkey in 2016, local governments were given the power to ban public gatherings, and authorities across the country used this to outlaw Pride marches. Their power to do so has since been rescinded.

Defence lawyer Oyku Didem Aydin, holding a rainbow flag in protest, had demanded the acquittal of the defendants, saying freedom of expression was a constitutional right.

“What harm can this flag cause when I hold it in my hand? Does that mean I refuse to disperse despite a police warning? A student gets taken into custody simply for holding a flag.”

“Police video taken during the protest shows clearly that one policeman is shouting ‘We are against your existence’,” Aydin said.

Following the ruling, Aydin told Reuters outside the Ankara courthouse that the ruling was right, but that it was a shame that young people had been criminalised for two years.

Homosexuality is legal in Turkey, but Pride marches have been repeatedly banned in recent years. Being lesbian, gay or bisexual is often equated with a lack of morality.

Turkey has been ruled for two decades by President Tayyip Erdogan’s socially conservative AK Party. Turkey ranked second last out of 49 European countries for LGBT+ rights protections in 2021 rankings compiled by advocacy group ILGA-Europe.

One student was given a fine for “insulting” authorities with hand gestures during the protest.