LGBT rights activists hold a rainbow flag during a transgender pride parade which was banned by the governor’s office, in central Istanbul, Turkey, June 19, 2016.

© 2016 REUTERS/Osman Orsal/Axel Schmidt
Istanbul’s sixteenth Pride March is set to take place on July 1. But even as the city’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community (LGBTI) and supporters prepare to celebrate next week, it is unclear whether they will be free to do so.

The Istanbul Governor’s Office has banned the Pride March since 2015, citing security concerns and the need to uphold public order. It has also invoked the excuse that selected locations were not suitable for public assemblies. Nevertheless, in recent years, some people tried to gather in spite of the bans, and police responded harshly, using excessive force to arrest and disperse participants.

Far-right and ultra-nationalist groups have also attempted to stop LGBTI people from marching, citing public morality and values. Authorities have perversely used these threats as further justification to ban the march.

Banning LGBTI activities and events is becoming routine and widespread in Turkey. Bans on the Istanbul Pride March and Trans Pride March have been followed by the Ankara Governor’s November 2017 ban on all LGBTI-related events in the city and the cancellation of LGBTI events in several other cities in Turkey.

LGBTI and human rights activists have filed several criminal complaints against these government bans and various threatening groups. Restrictions on freedoms of expression, assembly, and association for LGBTI people in Turkey not only violate those fundamental human rights, but place Turkey in violation of its international obligations.

As a member of the Council of Europe, Turkey should adhere to the Council’s standards to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. A 2010 recommendation provides that members states should ensure everyone can enjoy their freedom of peaceful assembly without any discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. It also says governments should not misuse legal and administrative provisions to impose restrictions on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly on grounds of public health, public morality, and public order.

The Istanbul Governor’s Office should lift its arbitrary bans and allow the Pride March to take place this year. Turkey has an obligation to ensure LGBTI people are able to fully enjoy their rights to peaceful freedom of expression, association and assembly free of discrimination. Law enforcement authorities assigned to uphold public order should remember they are there to protect those participating in the march.