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June 06, 2008

TURKEY'S LATEST ANTI-GAY SURGE

I wrote the following report for this week's Gay City News, New York City's largest gay and lesbian weekly newspaper:
Lambda_istanbulIn the latest in a series of legal attacks on LGBT organizations and publications in Turkey, on May 29 a court in Istanbul, the nation's largest city, ordered the dissolution of Lambda Istanbul. Founded in 1993, the group is Turkey's oldest LGBT organization, and has organized Gay Pride marches in that city every year since 2003.
The organization has been under attack from Istanbul's governor, MuammerMuammeer_guler  Güler (right), since 2007, when his office brought a legal action to close the organization, claiming that Lambda violates both the Penal Code, as an association in violation of "law and morals," and Article 41 of the Turkish Constitution, which is concerned with "the peace and welfare of the family."

Güler was appointed in 2003 by the country's ruling party, the Islamist AKP (Justice and Development), which has governed the nation since 2001. The court ban on Lambda Istanbul was preceded by six hearings on the case over the last year and a half.

Lambda Istanbul lesbian activist Sedef Cakmak told Gay City News by telephone, "We will appeal the court ban to Turkey's Supreme Court [Yargitay], and our lawyers tell us they think we will win on appeal. Unfortunately, the court system in Turkey is very slow, and our lawyers say a decision on our appeal may take one to two years. They have not even been given as yet a copy of the full verdict by the local court."

She continued, "But if our appeal goes against us, we will then take the case to the European Court of Human Rights."
Cakmak told this reporter that Lambda Istanbul has called a protest demonstration against the ban for Saturday, June 7.

The group, she explained, is a non-hierarchical organization with no officers and about 150 official members, "but our real support is much larger than that, because most LGBT people in Turkey are afraid to come out in public and don't want to put their names on our membership rolls. People can be beaten or thrown out of the house by their own families for being gay and ostracized by their friends and communities. Homophobia exists in every part of society, and we are attacked as a disease and a perversion. But despite this, we have 50 active volunteers who work with us, many of whom are not officially members, which is pretty good!"

A lawyer for Lambda Istanbul was told by prosecutors that it has been under renewed surveillance since March of this year, and on April 7, Istanbul police raided Lambda Istanbul's Cultural Center, seizing the group's membership list and other documents. The warrant for the raid cited suspicions that Lambda "facilitates prostitution, acts as a go-between [and] provides a place for [prostitution]."

The police accused us of pimping for transgendered sex workers and of being a center of prostitution," Cakmak said, "but of course they found nothing to confirm these ridiculous and false charges. Our membership list and other documents were eventually returned to us, and up until now none of our members has been bothered by the police because their names were on that list." (For more on the raid on Lambda Istanbul, see this reporter's April 24-30 article, "At World's Crossroads, Backlash," a hyperlink to which can be found on the online version of this story at gaycitynews.com).

Another Lambda Istanbul activist, Öner Ceylan, told me, "Lambda is a 15-year-old organization, so no way we're giving up the fight or closing down, and our Gay Pride march will continue this year as scheduled on June 29. It will be bigger than ever, with some members of the Turkish and European Parliaments joining us and many LGBTs and friends from all over Turkey."

The march will cap a weeklong festival of activities and events that begins June 23 and includes film screenings, parties, concerts, forums, and workshops.

Ufuk_uras_3 At a June 3 Lambda Istanbul press conference on the court ban that included representatives from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Turkish human rights organizations, Turkish Member of Parliament Ufuk Uras (left) the small ODP (Freedom and Solidarity Party) said, "Homophobia is a perverted attitude... Legal protections for all sexual identities should be enshrined in our Constitution."

The day after the court ban on Lambda Istanbul, Luis Maria de Puig (right),Luis_maria_de_puig  the president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, issued a stark reminder to the Turkish government that freedom of expression and freedom of association are enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, which Turkey has ratified. De Puig expressed his "profound concern" over the banning of Lambda Istanbul, saying, "The arguments put forward by the prosecutor leading to the closure of the association Lambda Istanbul, whose activities were held to infringe the laws on public morality, are puzzling to me."

He added, "Any person, whether lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, has the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, without discrimination. It rests with the authorities to ensure that everyone can exercise these rights."

De Puig is a Spanish Socialist, and the 47-country-member Council of Europe predates the European Union. It promotes and protects democracy and educational and sporting co-operation, and created the European Court of Human Rights. Turkey was a founder member of the Council of Europe in 1949.

The court decision dissolving Lambda Istanbul was only the latest in a series of legal attacks on Turkey's LGBT groups and the right to association.

Last spring, Istanbul police conducted a series of muscular raids on gay bars. Cakmak said there had been no further raids since then, but noted, "Transpeople are continually subjected to unjustified police harassment and police violence, whether or not they are sex workers - and even though prostitution is not illegal in Turkey, police will arrest the transgendered and accuse them of being prostitutes and beat them."

Kaos_gl_cover In December 2006, the Ankara-based editor of Kaos GL, Turkey's only magazine for LGBT people (left), 29-year-old gay activist Umut Güner, was indicted under a vague statute banning "obscene" material, and faced up to three years in prison. Authorities seized the magazine's entire press run (see this reporter's August 10-16, 2006 article, "Crackdown on Turkey's Gays," and December 13-19, 2006 article, "Turkish Gay Editor Faces Prison." Güner was acquitted last year.

The year before, Ankara's deputy governor, Selahattin Ekmenoglu, also an appointee of the Islamist AKP, attempted to close down the LGBT association, also named Kaos GL, that publishes the magazine, but the group won its case in court.

This year, to mark the International Day Against Homophobia on May 17, Kaos GL organized a march in Ankara, the nation's capital, in which more than 100 gay men and women, bisexuals, and transgender people assembled in front of the human rights monument in Yuksel Street for a march to Parliament co-sponsored by the trans-led Pink Life LGBTT Association.

The march encountered minor difficulty. The police, who outnumbered the demonstrators, stopped the march and demanded that the rainbow flags and banners be taken down. Marchers agreed and were then allowed to continue. There were no other problems.

Michael_cashman Joining local Turkish activists was European Parliament Member Michael Cashman (left), the president of the European Parliament's all-party Intergroup for Gay and Lesbian Rights.

"I found these two days and in particular the march deeply moving," Cashman told UK Gay News, adding, "There were barely 100 of us, and it was a reminder to me of how we in Western countries like the UK take our rights for granted. Those Turkish women and men on that march are heroes and warriors who are prepared to put themselves on the front line to achieve equality. I will never forget them and our sense of solidarity."

Lambda Istanbul's English-language website page is at
http://www.lambdaistanbul.org/php/lambda.php?key=informatio. An extensive LGBT history of Turkey in English is on Kaos GL's website at http://news.kaosgl.com/turkey_lgbt_history.php 

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