Growing homophobia in Turkey by members of the government who have attacked gay activists as “deviants” has resulted in social media giant Twitter taking action.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu bashed “LGBT deviants” in tweets on Monday and Tuesday. Twitter placed a warning on his tweet, saying it violates rules against hate.
Ankara’s AKP Party and its president Recep Tayyip Erdogan have become increasingly authoritarian in recent years, arresting journalists and dissidents and imprisoning people for decades for tweets critical of the government. Student protesters have been targeted in a country where almost any protest against Ankara’s policies is now considered illegal and people are often imprisoned on “terror” charges just for critiquing Turkey’s ruling party.
Erdogan has declared war on LGBT youth, pushing homophobic rhetoric and claiming that the future of Turkey will belong to AKP Party youth, not gay rights. This is a change for the Turkish authoritarian, who once supported democracy and gay rights, but has shifted in recent years, emboldened by support from the former US administration, NATO and some EU countries.
In recent weeks, university students in Istanbul have been protesting Ankara’s heavy handed policies at a key university. This led to arrests of students on Monday and to the anti-gay tweets.
Aykan Erdemir, a former Turkish lawmaker, and director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies Turkey Program, tweeted that the anti-gay tweets in Turkey illustrated impunity and could “further hate crimes.” He noted that although the Soylu tweet was flagged, the interior minister had tweeted similar hate speech 82 hours before.
Twitter’s move against Soylu is part of a wider campaign in which the social media giant has sought to crackdown on hate speech. It has also removed extremists over the years, including hundreds of thousands of pro-ISIS Twitter accounts, some of them in Turkey.
Twitter also removed a network of AKP Party-linked accounts that were harassing dissidents in June 2020. Turkey has an army of pro-Erdogan Twitter accounts, many of them fake, that troll journalists and dissidents.
They have also bashed Israel. Erdogan has compared Israel to Nazi Germany, has sought to prevent Israel’s relations with the UAE and also slammed the recent signing of new diplomatic relations with Kosovo.
Turkey is one of the most anti-Israel countries in the world, after Iran’s regime. Antisemitic articles in pro-government media are common, including recent reports at Yeni Safak claiming Jews control America and a tweet at Clash Report claiming Jews are overrepresented in the Biden administration. Even Iran does not have such antisemitic articles – and Iran’s leaders are more careful with their homophobic comments.
After Erdogan began bashing the LGBT activists, his ministers continued the campaign against gay rights and activists. Twitter taking action was praised by dissidents and those who are critical of the Ankara regime. According to reports, access to the Soylu hate tweet was banned in France.
Turkey gambled on connections to the Trump administration to enable increasingly extremist behavior from Ankara. It had friends in the Trump administration, including the first national security advisor and key members of the state department who departed in 2020.
It slammed US President Joe Biden during the campaign and also attacked Nancy Pelosi. Now Ankara has been hoping for at least one phone call with the new administration as it complains that the US now views it as a “so-called” partner and has slammed Turkey’s behavior in talks with European officials.
Ankara has been growing closer to Iran, Russia and China, recently meeting Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and partitioning parts of Syria, Libya and the Caucasus with Russia. Turkey is buying Russia’s S-400s.
Erdogan likely looks to Tehran, Moscow and Beijing for examples of how to crack down on protests. China has cracked down on Hong Kong, Iran killed more than 1,000 protesters in 2019 and Russia is cracking down on recent protests. Anti-gay views are also common in authoritarian regimes that Turkey admires, from Russian to Malaysia and Pakistan.