Even before the start of the rally, riot police carried out a first heavy raid on several bars and on the streets of the Cihangir district, around the emblematic Taksim square, arresting “randomly” people who were there, found AFP.

According to the count of the organizers of the march, some 200 people in total were apprehended in several waves and began to be gradually released in the early evening.

The NGO Kaos GL, which campaigns for the promotion and protection of LGBTQ people, had previously counted “more than 150” arrests in the afternoon.

Amnesty International called for their “unconditional and immediate release” on Twitter.

As every year now, the Pride March had been officially banned by the governor of the city but hundreds of demonstrators waving rainbow flags gathered in the streets adjacent to Taksim Square, which is completely closed to the public.

– “The future is queer” –

Chanting “The future is queer!”, “You will never be alone!” or “We are here, we are queer, we will not go anywhere else!”, the demonstrators then marched for a little over an hour in the streets of the Cihangir district, supported by residents posted at the windows.

Those arrested were driven in police vans to Istanbul’s main police station, an AFP videographer noted.

“They try to ban us, to prevent us, to discriminate against us and even to kill us every minute of our existence,” Diren, 22, told AFP.

“But today is an opportunity to defend our rights, to shout that we exist: you will never be able to stop queers”, adds Diren, using the term which designates any form of altersexuality and refutes the biological definition of gender.

According to several witnesses, the police tried to prevent the press from filming the arrests.

Bülent Kilic, an experienced and award-winning AFP photographer familiar with conflict zones, was handcuffed behind his back, his T-shirt ripped off, and loaded into a police van with others.

He had already been arrested last year in the same circumstances.

– “A habit” –

On Twitter, the press defense organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) regretted that the Turkish authorities seem “to have gotten into the habit of arresting AFP photojournalist Bülent Kilic”.

“Despite three convictions pronounced by the Constitutional Court in the last three years, the security forces continue to abuse and arbitrarily detain journalists. Unfortunately, the administration has become accustomed to disregarding the decisions of the Court nor of the law”, added its representative Erol Onderoglu.

After a spectacular parade in 2014 of more than 100,000 people in Istanbul, Turkish authorities have banned the Pride March year after year, officially for security reasons.

On Friday, the European Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovi?, called on “the Istanbul authorities to lift the ban in force on the Pride March and to guarantee the safety of peaceful demonstrators”.

“The human rights of LGBT people in Turkey must be protected,” she added, calling for “an end to (their) stigma”.

Homosexuality, decriminalized in Turkey since the middle of the 19th century (1858), is not prohibited but remains largely subject to social opprobrium and hostility from the ruling Islamic-conservative party, the AKP, and that of the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

A minister once called homosexuals “crazy”.

In 2020, the Netflix platform had been forced to give up the production of a series in Turkey because it presented a gay character and had not obtained the green light from the authorities.

The same year, the French brand of sports equipment and clothing Decathlon had been the subject of calls for a boycott in Turkey for having conveyed messages of support for the LGBTQ communities in its campaigns.