• Participants carry a rainbow flag as they gather in spite of the Istanbul LGBT Pride Parade being cancelled due to 'security concerns' by authorities. (EPA, CEM TURKEL)Source: EPA, CEM TURKEL
Protesters defending their right to march for LGBTQIA+ Pride were met with police, rubber bullets and tear gas in Istanbul.
Ben Winsor

20 Jun 2016 - 3:42 PM  UPDATED 21 Jun 2016 - 1:15 PM

Last week, authorities in Istanbul banned planned LGBTQIA+ pride marches, citing security concerns and threats from homophobic Islamist ultra-nationalist groups.

When transgender rights activists turned up on Sunday to march for solidarity, they were met with hundreds of riot police – not to protect them, but to forcibly disperse them, according to Reuters.

Turkish police fire plastic bullets as participants gather in spite of the Istanbul Pride ban, Turkey, 19 June 2016.

Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at the small group of dozens of protestors in the streets of central Istanbul.

The annual gay pride parade, normally the largest in the Muslim world, was due to take place this coming Sunday.

“Football fans can rally in this country whenever they want,” said Ebru Kiranci, spokesperson of the Istanbul LGBTI Solidarity Association. “The heterosexuals think it's too much for us, only 2 hours in 365 days.”

While Turkey is technically a secular country, the vast majority of its citizens identify as Muslim.

In recent years the country’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has been clamping down on free speech and courting Turkey’s stricter Muslim voters. His government has become notorious for heavy handed responses to anti-government protesters. 

Last year police turned water cannons and rubber bullets on pride marchers in an effort to stop the parade. A direct hit from a water cannon at close range last year sent one protester flying backwards, slamming onto the pavement and sliding meters down the road.