Turkey’s Erdogan supports cleric's homophobic remarks

Homophobic remarks trigger storm of criticism

Members of LGBT community take part in a Gay Pride parade in central Istanbul, Turkey, July 1, 2018 (photo credit: OSMAN ORSAL/REUTERS)
Members of LGBT community take part in a Gay Pride parade in central Istanbul, Turkey, July 1, 2018
(photo credit: OSMAN ORSAL/REUTERS)
BERLIN – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has defended the homophobic remarks of the country’s top Muslim cleric, who equated homosexuality with disease and societal decay.
On Friday, Ali Erbas, head of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, said Islam condemns homosexuality because “it brings illnesses and corrupts generations,” adding that it also causes the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that leads to AIDS.
Erbas’s anti-gay remarks prompted a clash between Erdogan’s ruling Islamist-rooted AKP Party and the country’s lawyers association over freedom of expression.
The lawyers condemned the cleric’s comment as harmful to human dignity, but an AKP spokesman said he had simply been speaking up for the values of the Turkish people and accused the lawyers of harboring a “fascist mentality.”
 “Come and let’s fight together to protect people from such evil,” Erbas said in his weekly sermon. He also slammed sexual relations prior to marriage.
Homosexuality is not a crime in Turkey. However, members of the LGBTQ community face widespread hostility, and Gay Pride parades, which used to attract thousands of people from around the Middle East, have been banned in Istanbul in recent years.
The Ankara Bar Association said Erbas’s comments “came from ages ago” and were against human dignity. The Izmir Bar Association said it was concerned the statement could encourage new hate crimes.
On Monday, government officials took to Twitter to defend Erbas, using the top-trending hashtag “Ali Erbas is not alone.”
“It is the most natural right for people to speak according to the value system they believe in,” said AKP spokesman Omer Celik on Twitter.
“What is abnormal is demanding the contrary,” Celik added, accusing the Ankara Bar Association of displaying a “fascist mentality” that sought to deprive Erbas of his right to free speech.
Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin, using the same hashtag, said Erbas had voiced the “divine judgment.”
On Monday, the Ankara prosecutor’s office launched an investigation into the heads of the Ankara Bar Association on suspicion that they may have insulted Turks’ religious values, the state Anadolu news agency reported.
Human rights groups and the European Union have long accused Erdogan and his government of neglecting, and in some cases rolling back, the rights of religious and ethnic minorities, members of the LGBTQ community and women.
Erbas supervises over 1,000 imams in Germany. Erdogan appointed the 48-year-old Islamic theologian to his position in 2017. Erbas has been active over the years in promoting Turkey's brand of political Islam in Germany.

Reuters contributed to this report.