Gay group faces court challenge in Turkey

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Efforts by Turkish officials to close one of the country’s leading LGBT organisations will resume in court today.

A department of the Istanbul Governor’s office responsible for non-governmental organisations alleges that the group, Lambda Istanbul, violates Turkish laws on morality.

They claim 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.”

At a hearing last October Lambda’s lawyers presented the court with a report from a legal expert explaining why the group’s work on LGBT rights was not in breach of morality codes.

The judge then ordered the prosecution to prepare a report of their own and the case was adjourned until today.

Today’s hearing is the third, after Istanbul authorities were defeated in a lower court in 2006, which ruled that every Turkish citizen “had a constitutional right to found an organisation.”

Government officials have made similar legal moves to shut down other lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender organisations in Turkey but failed.

Kaos GL, based in Ankara, faced a demand for closure from Ankara’s deputy governor, Selahattin Ekmenoglu, in 2005. The closure petition was dismissed by prosecutors.

A spokesman for Lambda Istanbul said the case was “significant with regards to the ongoing debates around the draft for a new Turkish constitution.

“The first draft put forth by the government was received with much criticism and was denounced as ‘backlash’ against gender equality, women’s rights and human rights.

“Lambda, KAOS GL, Istanbul’s Women’s Platform for a New Constitution and other human rights groups are currently undertaking a campaign to prevent the backlash and gain new ground.

“Among other issues, we are demanding that the constitution’s anti-discrimination article include sexual orientation and gender identities.”

The chairman of Dutch gay rights group COC, Frank van Dalen, says that closing Lambda Istanbul would be against non-discriminatory guidelines issued by the European Union and against the universal right to free speech.

Turkey is a candidate country for EU membership, but concerns about human rights are one factor frustrating negotiations.

The closing of Lambda would be a devastating blow for the European LGBT emancipation movement, according to COC.

Mr Van Dalen has called on the Dutch government to not support Turkey’s application for EU membership until “basic human rights are fully respected by Turkey.”