Turkish Transgender Activists Face Abusive Police and Unfair Charges

In May, five activists from Pembe Hayat, a transgender rights organization based in Ankara, were arbitrarily detained and beaten by police officers.

At the time, the group was driving to a friend’s house when they were cut off by a police car. Officers approached them, and accused the group of intending to commit sex work. They were then asked to get out off their car.

Knowing that the police had no reasonable suspicion or evidence of any crime, the activists refused to get out of the car. And that’s when police attacked the five activists, forcing them out of their car, beating them with batons, kicking them, and spraying them with tear gas.

Considering that Turkey can be a harsh place for LGBT people in general, and that even in liberal cities like New York City and San Francisco police officers foster transphobia, transphobic police officers in Turkey perhaps should come as no surprise. But the lack of investigation into police misconduct and the continued pursuit of imprisoning innocent people is disheartening and outrageous.

The activists in this case filed an official complaint of police abuse, but before the prosecutor finished investigating, the activists were charged with resisting police. They may face up to three years in prison, despite committing no crime. Their trial is set for October 21, 2010.

Now, international rights groups are urging Turkey to drop the criminal charges against the activists. They’re also asking that Turkish authorities investigate police conduct during the arrest, and for the government to enact laws to protect LGBT citizens from discrimination.

Want to add your voice to their call? Contact Turkish authorities today letting them know that these activists did nothing wrong, and that LGBT people deserve better protections.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first case of police misconduct involving transgender people in Turkey. In the past few years, about a dozen transgender people have been killed in hate crimes in Turkey. Yet, the police haven’t adequately investigated the murders, leading activists to label transgender abuse and violence high, with little to no accountability.

Transgender abuse is rampant around the world. But what makes this situation all the more appalling is that the abuse doesn’t just come from citizens, it comes from police and other authorities who are hired to protect people, regardless of their gender identity. If ever there was a time for international pressure on Turkey, now is it.

Photo credit: Dave Conner