Middle East Technical University LGBTI+ Solidarity, since its foundation in 1996, has been promoting gender equality and fighting against LGBTI+phobia. Although LGBTI+ activities and events at METU campus have always faced varying levels of resistance, the Pride March organized by the METU LGBTI+ Solidarity has become a symbol of the city through the years. As the bans and administrative investigations regarding LGBTI+ themed events continue, 19 LGBTI+ rights defenders are standing trial for attending the 9th METU Pride March.
Ankara Governorship has put a general ban on LGBTI+ events on November 18, 2017 until further notice, using “social sensitivities”, “public health and morality” and “protection of others’ rights and freedoms” as grounds for justification, and sustained it after the state of emergency was lifted in July 2018. This general ban was lifted only after Ankara Regional Administrative Court’s decision dating April 19, 2019.
METU campus was affected by the bans during and in the succeeding period to the state of emergency; nevertheless, the 9th Pride March was expected to take place on May 10, 2019. Although the regional court lifted the ban, the march was forbidden by the rectorate of the university. METU Rector Mustafa Verşan Kök announced the ban on the Pride March in an email to university students, faculty, and alumni.
Students gathered on campus on May 10 with the Regional Administrative Court Decision on their side that read “the ban has no date of termination, no clarifications on restrictions. It is necessary to protect these events rather than banning them”. They were met by the police, who were invited to the campus by the rectorate. 21 students, including members of METU LGBTI+ Solidarity and a faculty member, were taken under custody. University administration started an administrative investigation process against students who were released from custody later that night; while Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office drafted an indictment against the 19 LGBTI+ rights defenders.
In the indictment dating July 17, 2019, 19 rights defenders were accused of “participat[ing] in unlawful assembly or demonstrations” and “resist[ing] despite the warning or use of force” under Article 32/1 of Law 2911. The indictment was admitted on August 5, 2019 and the first hearing took place on November 12, 2019 at Ankara 39th Criminal Court of First Instance.
The LGBTI+ rights defenders have been subjected to public smear campaigns, as the trial continues. Members of the LGBTI+ Solidarity Community were pointed as targets in newspapers known for being allies to the government. In June 2019, some students lost their scholarships and loans from Kredi ve Yurtlar Kurumu (KYK – Institute for Student Loans and Housing) due to the trial they are facing. KYK asked students to pay their debts with the justification that they were taken under custody for participating in METU Pride March.
Six students’ houses, including two members of METU LBGTI+ Solidarity, were raided on June 30, 2019 before the graduation ceremony. Four students present at the houses at the time of the raids were taken under custody. They were released in the evening after they filed their statements. The two students who were not present at their houses filed their statements in the following days. Those under custody were interrogated on their sexual orientations and on whether they had planned to protest during the graduation ceremony. The ongoing investigation is confidential; therefore, there is no information on the content of the accusations made against the students.
The first hearing of the lawsuit filed against an academic with 18 students taken into custody was held in Ankara 39th Criminal Court of First Instance on November 12, 2019.
The press statement to be made before the hearing was blocked by the police. The hearing was followed by a large number of European diplomats with representatives of the EU Delegation to Turkey.
The defendants’ lawyers requested the return of the indictment, a criminal complaint against the police who intervened in the Pride March, and the acquittal of the students and the academician. The court announced that the next hearing of the case will be held on 12 March 2020, while rejecting the lawyers’ requests.
The second hearing of the case on March 12, 2020 was followed by the US, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, Canada and New Zealand Embassies and Amnesty International, Association for Monitoring Equal Rights, Kaos GL Association and Truth Justice Memory Center. It turned out that the raw records that were requested at the first hearing, which included police violence, were not forwarded to the court. After the witnesses were heard; the court decided to re-request the raw and unassembled images from the Ankara Security Directorate, to watch them, and to transmit all of the images to the expert committee to determine whether the law enforcement officers made a warning or not.
The third hearing on 10 July 2020 was postponed due to lawyers reporting an excuse. Lawyers went to support their colleagues who were protesting in Kuğulu Park against the “multiple bar” bill. In the statement made here, “LGBTIQ + rights are human rights” was said.
The fourth hearing of the trial took place on 10 December 2020, World Human Rights Day. The case was postponed to 30 April 2021 due to the prosecutor’s failure to prepare the opinion. Representatives from the embassies of Ireland, USA, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as Amnesty International followed the hearing.
Ünikuir Association made a statement criticizing the adjournment of the case once again after the hearing. The association said, “We know that this decision is political and that it was taken to undermine the international solidarity created for this trial where LGBTI+ activists were tried on Human Rights Day.”