Letter to Turkish authorities on hate speech

President of the Republic of Turkey
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Cumhurbaşkanlığı Külliyesi
06560 Beştepe-Ankara, Turkey

Head of the Directorate of Religious Affairs
Ali Erbaş
Üniversiteler Mah. Dumlupınar Bul. No: 147 /
D 06800 Çankaya / Ankara, Turkey

Brussels, 7 May 2020

Subject: Hate speech by high-level institutional representatives towards LGBTI persons and persons living with HIV

Dear President of the Republic of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan,
Dear Head of the Directorate of Religious Affairs, Ali Erbaş,

As Members of the European Parliament, we are gravely concerned about the statements delivered during the khutbah on 24 April 2020, titled „Ramadan: Patience and Will Training“, where LGBTI persons and persons living with HIV were publicly vilified. We are in addition concerned about the endorsement of such comments by high-level institution representatives both offline and online and the repercussions they might cause for LGBTI persons in Turkey.

On the first day of Ramadan, the President of the Directorate of Religious Affairs, Ali Erbaş, resorted to hatred during a khutbah to vilify members of the LGBTI community. Equating homosexuality with a disease, the Head of the Directorate of Religious Affairs commented that “hundreds of thousands of people a year are exposed to the HIV virus caused by this great haram, which passes as adultery in the Islamic Literature” in a clear display of ignorance and targeted incitement to hatred.

The civil servant’s statement gave rise to other statements of support. The Presidential Spokesperson and Chief Advisor, İbrahim Kalın, commented that Ali Erbaş “put the divine truth into words”. The Minister of Family, Labour and Social Services, Zehra Zümrüt Selçuk, commented that Erbaş’ words “remind us of our religious values in order to protect our families and generations during Ramadan”. The Parliamentary Human Rights Investigation Commission Spokesperson, Osman Nuri Gülaç, added that „the future of humanity is only possible through legitimate marriages” and referred to LGBTI lobbies commanding academia, politics and media in many countries in the world. The support for hate speech at such high political level is unacceptable and incompatible with the expectations of a
Member State currently in the process of accession.

The statement was condemned by organisations and political actors in Turkey, which highlighted the instrumentalisation of a period of confusion and uncertainty to target specific groups of people, instead of focusing on promoting understanding and solidarity with those affected by COVID19. We welcome these public condemnations and their intent to highlight the political intentions behind the hateful rhetoric.

The Ankara Branch of the Human Rights Association filed a criminal complaint against Ali Erbaş in order to “prevent hate crimes, discrimination and gender inequality”. The Bar associations of Ankara, Diyarbakir, İstanbul and İzmir joined the call in condemning the sermon, which raises concerns about the usurping of a ceremony of faith to openly incite hatred and discrimination. Worryingly, the Ankara Public Prosecutor’s Office started an investigation against the Ankara Bar Association on the grounds of „insulting religious values that a part of the society has embraced“. The Bar Association of Diyarbakir is also the object of an investigation under the same grounds. In response to these complaints, President Erdogan claimed that “An attack on our Diyanet head is an attack on the state.”

The hate speech towards LGBTI persons by high-level institution representatives is not without consequence. Hate speech towards LGBTI persons increased on social media as a result, notably during and after Lesbian Visibility Day (April 26). We are strongly concerned this will incite more hate speech and hate crimes against LGBTI persons.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief called on States not to use religious beliefs to justify LGBTI rights violations last March. Notably, the independent expert:

1) claimed in a report presented to the Human Rights Council that no claims or religious beliefs could be invoked as legitimate ‘justification’ for violence or discrimination against LGBTI people;
2) stated that “the right to freedom of religion protects individuals and not religions as such”;
3) recognised that LGBTI people “experience discrimination and violence inflicted in the name of religion by State and non-State actors that impedes their ability to enjoy their human rights”.

As a Member State of the Council of Europe and having ratified the European Convention of Human Rights, Turkey must uphold European human rights law. Recognising that:

• The European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) reported in its 2016 country monitoring report that 1) prejudice against LGBTI persons was widespread in Turkey and the political mainstream was not sympathetic to them; 2) most hate speech goes unpunished and that the majority of hate crimes against LGBTI persons are unreported due to not only lack of trust in police and judiciary, but fear of these authorities.

• ECRI’s General Policy Recommendations specify that “action against hate speech should serve to protect individuals and groups of persons rather than particular beliefs, ideologies or religions”;

• On 14 January 2020, the European Court of Human Rights recognised in Beizaras and Levickas v. Lithuania that Lithuania’s failure to investigate online hateful comments against a gay couple violated their rights to private and family life (Article 8) and to effective remedy (Article 13) as well
as being discriminatory on the ground of sexual orientation (Article 14).

• The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers’ Recommendation to Member States expressly mentions that “neither cultural, traditional nor religious values, nor the rules for a ‘dominant culture’ can be invoked to justify hate speech or any other form of discrimination including on
grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity”;

We urge you to publicly withdraw these comments and to stop instrumentalising religion to openly discriminate against the LGBTI community. We additionally call on you to stop all investigations against the Bar associations that denounced the hateful rhetoric which has been made public, in order to allow the investigations concerning the criminal investigations they filed to take place free of intervention.

Yours sincerely,
Heidi HAUTALA, EP Vice-President
Dimitrios PAPADIMOULIS, EP Vice-President
Frederick FEDERLEY, Vice-President, Renew Europe Group
Frédérique RIES, Vice-President, Renew Europe Group
Alice KUHNKE, Vice-President, Greens/European Free Alliance Group
Ernest URTASUN, Vice-President, Greens/European Free Alliance Group
Gwendoline DELBOS-CORFIELD, Vice-President, Greens/European Free Alliance Group
Terry REINTKE, Vice-President, Greens/European Free Alliance Group
Marisa MATIAS, Vice-President, European United Left/Nordic Green Left
Marc ANGEL, Co-Chair, LGBTI Rights Intergroup
Malin BJÖRK, Vice-Chair, LGBTI Rights Intergroup
Maria WALSH, Vice-Chair, LGBTI Rights Intergroup
Sophie IN’T VELD, Vice-Chair, LGBTI Rights Intergroup
Evin INCIR, Member, Delegation to the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee
Abir AL-SAHLANI
Antoni COMÍN I OLIVERES
Brando BENIFEI
Dietmar KÖSTER
Chrysoula ZACHAROPOULOU
Evelyn REGNER
Francisco GUERREIRO
Hannah NEUMANN
José GUSMÃO
Karen MELCHIOR
Łukasz KOHUT
Magdalena ADAMOWICZ
Manuel BOMPARD
Nicolae ŞTEFĂNUȚĂ
Nathalie LOISEAU
Olivier CHASTEL
Pernando BARRENA
Petra DE SUTTER
Radka MAXOVÁ
Rasmus ANDRESEN
Rosa D’AMATO
Sylwia SPUREK
Tanja FAJON

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