Turkish authorities arrest more than 200 in Istanbul over banned Pride march

Turkish police broke up a banned Pride march in Istanbul on Sunday, detaining more than 200 protesters and an AFP photographer, journalists and organizers reported.

The governor’s office had banned the march around Taksim Square in the heart of Istanbul, but protesters gathered under heavy police presence ahead of schedule.

Police detained protesters and loaded them onto buses. AFP journalists saw four buses full of detainees, including AFP’s chief photographer Bulent Kilic.

Kilic, who was taken away handcuffed from the back, was detained by police. He was also arrested during last year’s Pride march.

Police prevented the press from filming the arrests in Istanbul, AFP reporters said.

Turkey’s largest city has banned the march since 2015, yet huge crowds gather every year to celebrate the end of Pride Month. Organizers called the ban illegal.

“We’re not giving up, we’re not afraid! We will continue our activities in safe places and online,” the Istanbul LGBTI+ Pride Week Committee said on Twitter.

Kaos GL, a prominent LGBTQ group, said 52 people had been detained shortly before the start of the march at 5pm (1400 GMT). The Pride Week committee later said more than 100 had been arrested.

The number of arrests by the police or the governor’s office was not immediately known.

Social media showed people being searched and loaded onto buses, including at least one news photographer. Journalists’ union DISK Basin-Is said “many” were beaten by police.

Local residents slammed pots and pans from their windows and balconies in support of the protesters as a police helicopter circled above them.

Metal fences and rows of riot police closed off the streets around Taksim Square and Istiklal Avenue in the Beyoglu district, the heart of the city’s shopping and tourism sector, as well as a traditional rallying point for protesters.

Metro services around Taksim Square were shut down hours before the march.

Turkey was previously one of the few Muslim-majority countries to allow Pride marches. The first took place in 2003, the year after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party came to power.

In recent years, the government has cracked down on public events by groups that do not represent its religiously conservative views. High numbers of arrests and the use of tear gas and plastic pellets by police have accompanied Pride events.

Counter-demonstrations by nationalists and Islamists, who claim the LGBTQ community poses a threat to “Turkish values,” have also threatened protesters.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)