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Turkish cleric’s sermon saying homosexuality ‘brings disease’ sparks legal threats

Turkish cleric’s sermon saying homosexuality ‘brings disease’ sparks legal threats

  • Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has personally backed the hate-preacher Ali Erbas.
Imam Ali Erbas

Lawyers who objected to a Muslim cleric who claimed homosexuality brings ‘disease’ are facing a criminal investigation.

Imam Ali Erbas gave the sermon last Friday at the start of the holy month or Ramadan. But its after-effects have rumbled on all week. Even President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has become involved, defending Erbas’ hateful comments.

Ankara’s Bar Association accused Erbas of hate speech. Meanwhile the Human Rights Association, also based in the Turkish capital, accused the cleric of sedition.

But the Ankara chief prosecutor’s office responded by launching a criminal investigation into the Ankara lawyers’ group for ‘insulting religious values’.

‘Islam curses homosexuality’

Erbas’ sermon was about COVID-19. But he went on to blam homosexuality and premarital sex for the spread of HIV. He said:

‘Islam curses homosexuality. Homosexuality brings with it illness and decay to lineage.’

He also urged Muslims ‘to join the fight to protect people from such evil’.

Opposition and rights groups condemned the comments by Erbas. Moreover, bar associations in Ankara, Izmir, and Diyarbakir criticized the remarks.

One association reportedly said it would not be surprised if the cleric were next to call on people ‘to light torches and burn women as witches’.

However, Erbas is not just a normal cleric. He also heads Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate, which administers mosques and personnel for Turkey’s Sunni Muslim majority.

And leading government officials rushed to his defense. In particular President Erdogan said any attack on Erbas was an attack on the state.

Erdogan is a pious Muslim and his ruling party is rooted in Turkey’s Islamic movement.

He said: ‘An attack against the Diyanet chief [Erbas] is an attack on the state. What he said was totally right.’

Moreover he said Erbas’ remarks were binding for all Muslims and said the clerics critics had launched a ‘deliberate attack against Islam’.

Turkey ‘obsessed with silencing critics’

The Ankara Bar Association filed their complaint against Erbaş with the Ankara chief prosecutor’s office. In it, they say Erbas’ sermon constituted public provocation to hatred and hostility. They said this is against Article 216/2 of the Turkish Penal Code.

However, the chief prosecutor office responded by opening an investigation into the lawyers for ‘insulting the religious values adopted by a part of the public’. They cited Article 216/3 of the Turkish Penal Code.

Turkey’s justice minister has also endorsed the chief prosecutor’s approach. The ministry has to grant permission to prosecutors if they are prosecuting lawyers and bar associations.

Meanwhile the Diyarbakir chief prosecutor has also launched a similar investigation on the same grounds against the Diyarbakır Bar Association.

Both the Ankara and Diyarbakir bar associations have seen their websites go down this week. They told Human Rights Watch that someone has targeted their sites but they do not know who.

Human Rights Watch has demanded Turkey drops the criminal investigations.

Moreover, it says Turkey’s government should ensure that all of its representatives refrain from hate speech against LGBT+ people and people living with HIV.

Hugh Williamson is Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. He said:

‘Turkey’s government has an obligation to protect everyone from hate crimes and discrimination, and should not tolerate statements by officials that encourage hate crimes and target LGBT people and those living with HIV.

‘These outrageous criminal investigations show that the government and their prosecutors have little, if any, interest in defending the rights of LGBT people and ending stigmatization, but are obsessed with silencing critics, including of hate speech.’

German clinic sacks doctor who backed Erbas

Meanwhile the debate has even gone beyond Turkey. A Turkish heart surgeon working in Germany lost his job after making similar comments to Erbas.

Metin Cakir worked at Karlsruhe Helios Clinic in Karlsruhe, southwestern Germany.

He said on Twitter: ‘As a doctor I would like to state that homosexuality and transsexuality are diseases.’

The clinic fired him in response. It said: ‘The statements in question are in no way consistent with the principles of action at Helios.’

Pride bans and police violence

Homosexuality is legal in Turkey and trans people can change gender. However the LGBT+ community doesn’t have anti-discrimination protections or marriage equality.

Moreover, Erdogan’s government previously banned Prides and events and police have enforced these bans violently, even when they have no legal basis.

At the moment, 18 students and an academic from Ankara’s Middle East Technical University (METU) await a trial for organizing and attending a Pride Parade on campus in May 2019.

You can read about the secret gay history of Islam and the era when Muslims considered homosexuality entirely natural and normal here.