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Joint statement: the only just outcome is the acquittal of the METU Pride human rights defenders

We, theundersigned human rights organisations, believe that the only just outcome inthe unfair prosecution of 19 human rights defenders for their participation ina peaceful Pride march on the campus of Ankara’s Middle East TechnicalUniversity (METU) on 10 May 2019 is their wholesale acquittal at their nexthearing on 10 December at 09:00 UTC+3.

The human rightsdefenders face charges of “participating in an unlawful assembly” and “failingto disperse despite being warned,” despite the fact that, three weeks earlieron 19 April 2019, the Ankara Administrative Appeals Court had lifted theblanket ban prohibiting all LGBTI+ activities in Ankara introduced under thestate of emergency, which was used as the legal basis to ban the march. The regional court lifted the ban on thegrounds that it was unlawful and restricted rights and freedoms inunconditional, vague, and disproportionate ways.

METU Pride hadbeen organised peacefully every year since 2011. However, on 6 May 2019, theadministration of METU unlawfully banned the METU Pride march. Since theadministration’s decision contravened the Ankara court’s ruling, activists andstudents exercised their legal right to freedom of assembly and gathered toproceed with their annual march. The university administration then contactedthe Ankara Security Directorate asking them to intervene to prevent the marchfrom taking place.

The police usedexcessive force on peaceful protestors on the day: tear gas and plastic bulletswere fired at the crowd, students were dragged across the ground, pushed upagainst trees and sustained head injuries. The excessive force used during thepolice intervention is a clear violation of the right to peaceful assembly,which is protected under domestic law and international laws, including theEuropean Convention of Human Rights, to which Turkey is a party.

Despite therebeing ample video footage of the police violence, to-date, none of the policeofficers seen using excessive force have been charged. On the contrary, 18 students and an academicwho were exercising their right to freedom of assembly were detained, chargedand prosecuted, facing a possible prison sentence of up to three years.

In June 2020, theAnkara Administrative Court No. 7 made reference to the 2019 ruling by theAnkara District Administrative Court No. 12 which quashed the blanket ban onall LGBTI+ events in the capital in place since 2017, stating that “althoughspecific assemblies and demonstrations may be banned, the right to peacefulassembly and demonstration should be protected as an inalienable right in ademocratic society” and that “the State has an obligation to take necessarymeasures to ensure this right can be exercised securely”. This ruling confirms that the METU administration’sban on the May 2019 Pride March on campus had no legal basis.

We therefore callon the trial prosecutor to recommend the acquittal of all the human rightsdefenders at the hearing on 10 December, and for all the relevant authoritiesin Turkey to ensure that the security forces and METU administration uphold theright to freedom of peaceful assembly as enshrined in domestic law andinternational human rights law, by ensuring that future Pride marches at METUcampus and in Ankara take place without obstruction. We also call on theTurkish authorities to conduct a prompt, independent and impartialinvestigation into the excessive use of force by the police on the campus, andfor police officers responsible for arbitrary or abusive force to be brought tojustice.

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 InternationalLesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association

InternationalFederation for Human Rights (FIDH), within the framework of the Observatory forthe Protection of Human Rights Defenders

Netherlands HelsinkiCommittee

World Organisation AgainstTorture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection ofHuman Rights Defenders

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