Thursday, June 5, 2008

Limits to Liberalism: Gay Rights Go Unprotected

An İstanbul court ruled on Tuesday to close the gay rights organization, LAMBDA İstanbul. The organization promotes the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people and is being closed on the grounds that it violates law and morality. According to Human Rights Watch,
"The judgment referred to article 17 of the Law on Associations and article 60/2 of the Civil Code, which taken together provide for closure of associations if they do not “remedy errors and deficiencies” in their statutes. But the court’s judgment did not specify these “deficiencies.” The proceedings made no reference to these articles before this last hearing on May 29. Neither the Governor’s Office nor the judge or prosecutor raised any such deficiencies in the statutes during previous hearings."
The case resulted from a complaint filed by the İstanbul governor's office in January 2007. The mayor's office had asked prosecutors to open a case against LAMBDA, but the request was denied in July. Apparently determined to close LAMBDA, the governors's office brought the case to trial on its own. LAMBDA was further harrassed in April when police raided its facilities on the grounds that the organization was involved with prostitution.

See the full report from Human Rights Watch. According to HRW, LAMBDA is not the only gay rights organization to be harassed by Turkish authorities as there have been similar cases of harrassment in Ankara.

LAMDA plans to appeal the court's decision to the Court of Cassastion (High Court of Criminal Appeals) and, if necessary, the European Court of Human Rights. Of the ruling, LAMBA member İzlem Aybastı said, "We were not an association for several years. If this decision is approved by the Supreme Court and Lambda Istanbul is closed down we will continue to work. However, this will threaten the existence of other gay rights associations in Turkey.” LAMBDA is a recognized association in Turkey and has been governed by the state's Law on Associations.

See also HRW's May report, "'We Need a Law for Liberation': Gender, Sexual Equality, and Human Rights in a Changing Turkey."

Significant to this affair is that the İstanbul governor, Muammer Güler, was appointed by AKP in 2001 and is subject to the influence of AKP top party officials. AKP repeatedly claims that they are in support of civil liberties and possess a libertarian view that all lifestyles should be protected from government intrusion, but this incident clearly shows that there are bounds. If AKP is as committed as it says it is to protecting everyone's rights and not just those of devout Sunni Muslims, it should denounce the repression of LAMBDA and reign in Güler. By not doing so, it tacitly consents to Güler's actions and the authority of the judiciary under which the governor is currently hiding.

Of note, I searched Today's Zaman for news of this story that might have appeared while I was in Diyarbakır and found nothing—more evidence to suggest that the liberal proclamations of religious conservatives have limits. This also reinforces my earlier argument that it is incumbent on AKP and other religiously conservative public actors to define boundaries as to what spheres of life the government should be able to intervene (see May 14 post). The expansion of rights simply does not seem to extend to members of LAMBDA.

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