A Portuguese man says he was arrested and jailed in Turkey for 20 days because he “looked gay.”
During a visit to Istanbul last month, Miguel Alvaro says he was on his way to meet a friend for lunch when he asked police officers for directions. According to LBC, Alvaro was unaware that an unsanctioned LGBTQ+ march was happening nearby. Alvaro says that one of the Turkish police officers order his arrest.
“They grabbed my arms and I tried to free myself. One of them hit me in the ribs, they pushed me against a van, they hit me on the shoulder, which started to bleed,” he told the British radio station.
Alvaro told Portuguese media outlet P3 that he was placed in a police van where he reportedly waited for five hours before officers told him that he’d “been detained because of my appearance.”
“They thought I would participate in an unauthorized LGBTI+ march that was going to take place nearby because I looked gay,” he said. “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Human Rights Watch estimated that at least 149 people were arrested in Turkey, at least 96 of them in Istanbul, during the weekend of June 25, when police violently interfered with Pride demonstrations.
Alvaro says he spent a total of 13 hours in the van before being taken to a police station for processing the next day. According to LBC, he spent several hours in an immigrant detention center where the sheets were reportedly crawling with maggots before being driven 17 hours to a prison near the Syrian border.
Alvaro says that other prisoners threatened him because he was gay and that he barely slept during his stay at the prison for fear of being attacked. He also claims that prisoners were barely given any water.
In early July, he was finally allowed to phone his father, who asked the Portuguese embassy for help. Alvaro was not released until July 12, 20 days after his arrest.
Alvaro told P3 that the ordeal has left him “in a horrible psychological state.”
“I’m very afraid of the consequences in the future,” he said. “I can’t believe this happened to me.”
According to LBC, Alvaro is now warning members of the LGBTQ+ community not to visit Turkey. While homosexuality is legal in Turkey, the country lacks anti-discrimination protections, and same-sex marriage is not legal. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is staunchly anti-LGBTQ+. In 2021, Erdogan withdrew from the Istanbul Convention – an agreement between 45 countries to better protect women from violence – after stating it was “hijacked by a group of people attempting to normalize homosexuality.”
Last year, police in Istanbul arrested hundreds of marchers, protesters, and bystanders in and around Taksim Square, where LGBTQ+ people had gathered for a Pride march that was banned by the local governor.