Prosecutor demands arrest for women’s rally detainees in Istanbul

(Updates with court decision)

Two of the nine protesters taken into police custody after Saturday’s demonstrations for International Women’s Day in Istanbul’s Kadıköy district were issued month-long house arrests, while the remaining seven will have to sign in at the nearest police station to their place of residence twice a week, their lawyers announced on Twitter.

All nine protesters were issued foreign travel bans as well. The group had been referred to court with a prosecutor demanding their arrest earlier on Sunday.

According to ETHA news agency, the prosecutor demanded arrest without taking statements from the activists, who are charged with resisting arrest.

The charge carries a sentence of six months to three years in prison, which can be increased by a third if the act is carried out in disguise or in a group, according to Turkish law. The law also stipulates that pre-trial detention remain an extraordinary measure, however, prosecutors often demand arrest in cases related to street protests.

Before the referral, after midnight on Saturday night, lawyers for the detainees told reporters that they had been unable to meet with their clients.

“We are concerned for the lives of our clients,” the lawyers of Contemporary Lawyers Association (ÇHD) said. “We are calling on all to show solidarity with us and our clients who were taken into custody under torture.”

Most of the detainees are transwomen, who were stopped by the police as they arrived at the demonstration, LGBT news portal Kaos GL cited ÇHD as saying on Saturday.

“They didn’t want to allow rainbow banners, signs, and even umbrellas to enter at first,” ÇHD said. “They didn’t want to let the trans cortege in.”

The activists were taken into custody after the rally ended, as they were taking a taxi cab to leave the grounds. The police didn’t cite a reason for their original detention.

“You have no right to detain people,” a woman shouted at the police as she tried to stop them from accessing the taxi, as caught on video by journalist Zeynep Kuray. The woman was violently pulled aside.

Female officers can be seen shoving protesters around to keep them away from the taxi.

Photographer Şener Yılmaz Aslan was also detained for documenting the detention. In a video captured by journalist Fatoş Erdoğan, Aslan is seen saying, “I am being detained as I photograph the torture imposed on trans people.” In the video, an officer is heard ordering for the removal of journalists from the area and four officers to surround Aslan, presumably so he won’t be seen.

“A hate crime is being committed here right now. Hatred is grown against trans people, gay people,” shouted one of the activists from inside the taxi.

Before the rally, Turkey’s Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun targeted the LGBT community, saying “hideous” homosexuality would not be allowed to appear normal for Turkish youth.

Anti-LGBT sentiment among Turkish government officials has been on a steep hike since Directorate of Religious Affairs chief Ali Erbaş said homosexuality was the cause of disease and decay in April last year.

Turkish President Recep  Tayyip Erdoğan outright denied the existence of LGBT people in early February, quickly followed up by a call on his ruling party’s women to “nevermind the lesbians”.

Pride marches have been banned since 2015, when participants in Istanbul faced water cannons and tear gas by the police as they pushed to reach the usual parade route in central Istanbul. In 2014, some 100,000 people attended Istanbul Pride.

Regular pro-LGBT events have also been facing governorate bans in the capital Ankara since 2017.

LGBT groups and organisations have been subject to scrutiny in recent months over their role in the protests against a rector Erdoğan appointed to Istanbul’s prestigious Boğaziçi University.