31/01/2024 | Writer: Yıldız Tar

Justice continues to be absent in the courts of a country where bans are issued at the drop of a hat and lawsuits are filed at the drop of a hat.

Ban out of the blue, lawsuit out of the blue: Don't drink tea or watch movies Kaos GL - News Portal for LGBTI+

An indictment in front of me. Three pages in all. One page already contains the names and addresses of the suspects. The remaining two pages are familiar enough to make one wonder if the prosecutors are copy-pasting each other.

The indictment tells a story. Due to the nature of a criminal case, it proceeds with a criminal fiction. For those who are not aware of what happened, who have not seen the photos and videos, who do not know how often and how such cases are filed, it may sound convincing. After all, something serious must have happened to warrant an indictment. It must have happened so that eight people are on trial just because they wanted to watch a movie.

I am referring to the 'BEKSAV case' last year, in which BEKSAV was prevented from showing a film as part of LGBTI+ Pride Month, people who went to watch the film were detained, and a lawsuit was filed against those who were detained.

Before diving into the chain of legalese, let's teleport to June 2023.

Pride Month 2023 was once again overshadowed by bans. According to Kaos GL's data; in June and July, five governorships, three district governorships and two rectorates banned LGBTI+ Pride Month events in ten cities. I'm not just talking about marches. Watching movies, having picnics, eating pastry, and even drinking tea were also on the list of prohibited activities for LGBTI+ people. The only thing that was not banned was breathing.

As is customary, administrative authorities' ban decisions were followed by detentions and lawsuits. Since the events leading up to the trial rendered the trial futile, it is necessary to go back a little further before we start talking about LGBTI+ Pride Month trials, indictments and hearings.

Trials take months, bans one minute

LGBTI+ events have been carefully banned since 2015. The ban, which started with marches, turned into an indefinite ban in Ankara in 2017, covering all kinds of activities in public spaces. These bans are issued by governorships and district governorships. Of course, you can appeal against the decisions published in template texts. For example, in the case against the indefinite ban in 2017, the court ruled that the ban was unlawful. In almost all other bans, the administrative judiciary finds the decisions of governorships and district governorships to be unlawful. The problem, however, is that these decisions are issued months later, and in the meantime the event cannot take place, and in some cases people who want to exercise their constitutional right are sued. In response to a ban decision that takes the administrative authority a total of one minute, you have to seek your rights at the court gates for months, sometimes as the plaintiff, more often as the defendant...

Let's open it: Let's say an event of yours is banned. You filed a lawsuit and demanded a stay of execution of the ban. While the lawsuit is pending, these decisions, which should be taken urgently so that you can at least hold the event, are not taken. Or administrative supervisors take decisions the day before the event, sometimes a few hours before the event, to block this path. We have even witnessed banning orders issued after the blocked event.

To make matters worse, even if you file a lawsuit against the ban and win, this does not set a precedent. The following year, the same administrative authority can ban the event once again with the same justification and copy-pasted text. As the song "Seninle Bir Dakika" (A Minute with You), one of the songs that represented us in the Eurovision contest, which we stopped participating in recent years due to the great anti-LGBTI+ siege, says: "Loving lasts a lifetime, making love lasts a minute"

From outrage society to judicial harassment

There may be issues that are not publicly disclosed in the text of the decision, and administrative authorities that evaluate each event separately may therefore have the luxury of ignoring the unlawfulness of previous ban decisions. After all, they have to evaluate each case separately, don't they? However, if the same cycle has been in place since 2015, we should no longer talk about separate cases, but about a discriminatory set-up consisting of the Governorate or District Governorate ban, police violence and the prosecution of those who have been subjected to violence.

The most recent example of this setup is the BEKSAV case. The Cinema Collective of the Science Aesthetics Culture and Arts Research Foundation (BEKSAV) had called for a joint screening of "Pride", a film about the solidarity between miners and homosexuals in the United Kingdom, on June 7 as part of Pride Month activities in 2023. After the screening was banned by the Kadıköy District Governorate, BEKSAV announced that the event would take place, and the participants who came to watch the movie together with Cinema Collective members were beaten and detained. A lawsuit was filed against the eight detainees on charges of violating Law No. 2911 on Meetings and Demonstrations. The first hearing of the case was held on October 31, 2023. The second hearing is on January 30.

The indictment of the case, besides the familiarity I mentioned at the beginning of this article, is too commonplace to be newsworthy. The event banned by the district governorship for one day within the Kadıköy district borders was a movie screening. What is not included in the indictment prepared on the grounds that the screening of a movie by a culture and arts foundation in its own building would "provoke outrage" and "touch national, conscientious and humanitarian values" are police brutality and court rulings that have established the illegality of the district governorship's bans.

From the first hearing: No announcements, lots of violence

At the first hearing of the trial, the names on trial tried to explain exactly this. Rüşa Sabur, one of the directors of BEKSAV Cultural Center, described the police attack on the film screening as follows:

"On the day of the screening, which was to take place at 21:00, when I arrived at the foundation's headquarters around 17:00, I saw that the street was blocked off with around 200 - 300 police officers and that two of our friends were in dialogue with the police officers. I went up to them and told them that what we were doing was a cultural and artistic activity and that any kind of ban would be an interference with freedom. About four hours before the show was due to start, we and the people coming for the show were blockaded, we were surrounded without realizing what was happening, this was to intimidate the people coming for the show, we were detained directly by force without any announcement. We were subjected to such unfair treatment without any explanation, march or demonstration, two of our friends were forcibly taken into a police vehicle, their t-shirts were torn off and they were subjected to torture."

BEKSAV Executive Committee Member Mine Şirin:

"We decided to organize an open-air cinema as part of Pride Week in June, but hours before the show was due to start, the police blockaded the foundation, citing a banning order issued by the district governorate, and wanted to prevent the screening from taking place, and in this context, the film screening could not take place. Without any warning or announcement, the police suddenly started to use shields and the authority to use force to squeeze us and detain us. They started to make announcements while we were being subjected to physical force, they didn't make any announcements beforehand; they also beat our friends because they couldn't manage to put handcuffs on them. We did not take any action that could be considered as resistance against them. In this context, I ask for my acquittal since no action can establish the legal elements of the imputed offense."

Berkan Deveci, another person on trial, spoke about Hanifi Zengin, the police chief at the time:

"On the date of the incident, I went to the BEKSAV to attend the film screening, I wanted to enter the garden, but the police had set up a barricade in front of the garden gate, we were not allowed to enter, they blockaded us and our friends coming out of the garden, and then Police Chief Hanifi Zengin instructed the police officers to "make an announcement, Take us all into custody" without going through the legal process correctly, I think he acted in this way to prove his authority as a newly appointed director, the demonstration we wanted to hold that day was absolutely not against the law, we will continue our culture and art activities in this way, I do not accept the accusations, I demand my acquittal."

Filing a lawsuit as judicial harassment

We mentioned that when we consider such cases as singular and judicial examples, we miss the real face of the issue. The other thing we need to mention is that these cases have now turned into judicial harassment.

According to Kaos GL's Human Rights of LGBTI+'s report titled "Let's Walk to Freedom" for the year 2022; in 2022, hate rallies were held in 15 cities under state protection and at least 571 LGBTI+ activists were detained. LGBTI+s were subjected to torture, ill-treatment, detention, bans, looting and lawsuits in 2022. When we examine the report that interprets all these practices as "purging from the public sphere"; we see that they all have a common goal: To censor the LGBTI+ reality and the struggle for the recognition of this reality.

In 2023, this picture has not changed and has even become more dire. Justice continues to be absent in the courts of a country where bans are issued at the drop of a hat and lawsuits are filed at the drop of a hat.

*This article was first published in MLSA.

Tags: human rights, arts and culture