Turkey: Students facing three-years in jail for celebrating Pride must be acquitted

Leading human rights organizations have come together to demand the acquittal of 19 human rights defenders for their participation in a Pride parade in 2019, ahead of the verdict expected on Thursday.

The 18 students and an academic at the Middle East Technical University (METU) are facing prison sentences of up to three years simply for organizing and participating in a Pride march on campus that the University management had unlawfully banned.

“In the summer of 2019, students and others peacefully participating in a celebration of love and solidarity were met with police pepper spray, plastic bullets and tear gas. Nineteen of them have also been dragged through the courts on baseless criminal charges and face absurd jail sentences,” said Nils Muižnieks, Amnesty International’s Europe Director.

“The ban of the Pride march lacked legal grounds and these brave students who defied it had their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly violated. They must be acquitted.”

The 19 individuals are charged with “participating in an unlawful assembly” and “failing to disperse despite being warned”. This is despite the fact that in February 2019, the Ankara Administrative Appeals Court had lifted the blanket ban prohibiting all LGBTI+ activities in Ankara introduced under the state of emergency, which University management relied on as the legal basis to stop the annual campus based Pride March from going ahead.

Despite appeals on them to ensure the March went ahead, the university authorities called the police to disperse the students on the day. As they peacefully sat on the lawn, students were met with pepper spray, plastic bullets and tear gas. Several were injured, many arbitrarily detained.  

A year later in June 2020, another administrative court in Ankara overturned the university’s unlawful ban, confirming that it had no legal basis.

“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 LGBTI+ people as they have a right to do so,” said Nils Muižnieks.

“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.”

For more information or to arrange an interview contact: Lucy Scholey, Media Relations Officer, Amnesty International Canada (English branch), 613-853-2142, lscholey@amnesty.ca  


The case of the METU students is part of Amnesty’s flagship Write for Rights campaign launched last month. See https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/11/write-for-rights-a-chance-for-governments-to-stand-up-for-humanity/

Amnesty International Turkey has handed over more than 100,000 signatures, from 15 countries, to Turkey’s Ministry of Justice.

In Canada alone, 6,278 people have taken action calling for Turkey’s Minister of Justice to acquit the 18 METU students and ensure a prompt, independent and impartial investigation into the excessive use of force by the police on campus.

Click here https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur44/3432/2020/en/  for the statement signed by Agir ensemble pour les droits humains, Amnesty International, Civil Rights Defenders, Front Line Defenders, Human Rights Without Frontiers, ILGA-Europe – the European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Netherlands Helsinki Committee, World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders