ISTANBUL : The authorities in Turkey's biggest city Istanbul on Friday banned an annual gay pride march planned for later this month, citing security and public order fears. The event, which attracts tens of thousands every year, was planned to take place on 26 June but has been cancelled amid threats from conservative groups to intervene and stop the march.
“It is understood from some media organs, websites and social media that LGBT members called for a march held to take place between 19 and 26 June at Taksim," the Governate of Istanbul said in a statement, according to the media report. "Such a meeting and demonstration march will not be allowed to take place by our governate, taking into account the security of our citizens, in particular the participants, as well as the public order.” In a press conference on Tuesday, far-right youth group Alperen Hearths said it would do "what is needed" to stop the event from taking place, according to Al Jazeera.
The gay pride march had until last year been held on 12 occasions largely without incident, growing into the largest such event in a Muslim country with thousands taking part in a celebration of diversity. However in 2015, police shocked participants by firing tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets to prevent the march before it had even begun. The statement from the governorate said: "Permission will not be given for… a meeting or a march on grounds of safeguarding security and public order."
"We urge our dear Istanbul residents not to heed calls to take part and to comply with warnings by the security forces." The organisers of the march, in a statement on their Facebook page, denounced the ban as a "flagrant violation of the constitution and the law." It said that the event had until 2015 been held on the last Sunday in June every year since 2003 "to raise our voices against the violations experienced throughout the year and express our demands for equality, freedom and legal status."
Activists are planning a week of events from this weekend culminating in a gay pride march on June 26 that traditionally follows Istanbul's famed shopping street Istiklal Caddesi and finishes in Taksim Square. However Turkey has been hit by a string of attacks this year, including a deadly suicide bombing on Istiklal itself that killed three Israelis and an Iranian and was blamed on jihadists. Meanwhile, the march, as last year, is scheduled to take place during the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
There had already been concerns about the security of participants after a hardline nationalist youth group, the Alperen Hearths, vowed to intervene to stop the march from taking place. The president of the Alperen Hearths said Thursday that the group did not want "our religious values to be ignored". "We do not want that people walk around half naked with alcohol bottles in their hands in this sacred city watered by the blood of our ancestors," Kursat Mican was quoted as saying by the Hurriyet daily.
Homosexuality has been legal in Turkey throughout the period of the modern republic and was also legalised in the Ottoman Empire from the mid-nineteenth century. But gays in Turkey regularly complain of harassment and abuse in a largely conservative Muslim society where open displays of same sex love are strongly frowned upon. Critics have accused President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of leading a creeping Islamisation in Turkey since he came to power as premier in 2003, undermining the secular foundations of the modern republic. Erdogan has repeatedly annoyed activists with his comments on sex and family planning, but has generally steered clear of commenting on gay issues.