Turkish president Erdoğan backs Muslim cleric who claims ‘evil’ homosexuals spread disease: ‘He’s absolutely right’

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has waded into a row to back a senior cleric who called for Muslims to oppose the ‘evil’ of homosexuality.

Ali Erbaş, who is the head of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), used a sermon at the start of Ramadan on Friday to call on people to “work together” against homosexuality.

He said: “Islam curses homosexuality. Homosexuality brings with it illnesses and decay to lineage. Let’s work together to protect people from such evil.”

The inflammatory remarks were condemned by LGBT+ and human rights groups, but this has only prompted a bigger row in the country – with anti-LGBT+ figures rushing out to defend the state official.

Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan says anti-LGBT+ message was ‘totally right’.

On Monday, Erdogan waded into the row in a public address, declaring that “an attack against the Diyanet chief is an attack on the state”.

He added: “What he said was totally right.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Photo by Getty Images)

Allies of the president within his right-wing Justice and Development Party have gone further in their attacks on LGBT+ groups, with government official Ömer Çelik praising the cleric for “defending Islamic values” and decrying the “fascist mentality” of those he claims are attacking “the most natural right for people to speak according to the value system they believe”.

Reuters reported on Monday that prosecutors have launched a probe into the Ankara Bar Association, claiming that the group’s condemnation of the cleric is an insult to religious values.

Erdogan’s government has overseen human rights abuses against LGBT+ people.

It’s technically legal to be gay in Turkey, but LGBT+ people in the country have few legal rights and face extreme stigma – with Pride parades still often brutally repressed by police.

In June 2019, police clad in riot gear fired tear gas at Istanbul Pride marchers to disrupt the event, marking the fifth year the event has been prevented from going ahead.

In November, Turkey levelled charges against 19 people in November for attending another peaceful Pride event in Ankara. Police used pepper spray, tear gas and plastic bullets against the crowd before arresting 22 people.

President Erdogan claimed in 2017 that representation of LGBT+ people is at odds “with the values of our nation”

He has also declared it “against nature” to “put women and men on an equal footing.”

Two cartoonists were convicted in 2015 over a satirical cartoon that prosecutors claimed suggested that Erdogan is gay. The pair were fined $2,740 for “insulting a public official”.