18 Turkish students, 1 lecturer on trial for taking part in Pride march

AFP Ankara, Turkey Nov 12, 2019, 05.32 PM(IST)

The LGBTQ flag Photograph:( Reuters )

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18 Turkish students and 1 lecturer went on trial on Tuesday for taking part in a banned LGBTI Pride event at an Ankara university

Eighteen Turkish students and a lecturer went on trial on Tuesday for taking part in a banned LGBTI Pride event at an Ankara university.

The defendants face up to three years in prison if convicted of "unlawful assembly and protest" and "refusing to disperse" in a trial deemed "farcical" by rights groups.

One of the 18 students also faces up to two years for insulting a police officer with hand gestures.

Homosexuality has been legal throughout modern Turkey's history, but LGBTI individuals face regular harassment and abuse.

The pride event at the prestigious Middle East Technical University has taken place every May since 2011.

But university bosses banned this year's event and police used pepper spray, plastic bullets and tear gas to break it up.

Officials from several European embassies, including Denmark, and an opposition lawmaker attended the packed hearing.

Lawyers and rights groups urged the court to immediately acquit the defendants.

"The ban of the Pride march lacks legal grounds, and these brave students and others who defied it had their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly violated," Sara Hall of Amnesty International said in a statement.

Police did not allow supporters to read a statement outside the courthouse.