Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has defended a religious leader who said that homosexuality “brings illnesses,” and called criticism of the cleric an “attack on the state.”
Ali Erbas, president of the state-funded Directorate of Religious Affairs, claimed last week that homosexuality causes disease, corruption, and is condemned in Islam during a weekly sermon.
The Directorate of Religious Affairs, or Diyanet, trains Turkey’s imams, provides Quranic education to children, and prepares a weekly sermon delivered in Turkey’s 85,000 mosques.
During his sermon on Friday, April, 24, Erbas said that homosexuality “brings illnesses and corrupts generations,” according to Reuters, and said that it causes HIV.
“Come and let’s fight together to protect people from such evil,” Erbas urged.
Erbas’ comments were criticized by lawyer’s group the Ankara Bar Association, which said they could lead to hate crimes against LGBTQ people and that his comments “came from ages ago.”
But Erdoğan pushed back against the criticism, saying “an attack against the Diyanet chief is an attack on the state,” The Jakarta Post reports. Erdoğan added: “What he said was totally right.”
Government officials defended Erbas on Twitter, with Ibrahim Kalin, Erdoğan’s spokesman, saying Erbas had “voiced divine judgment” and was “not alone.”
“It is the most natural right for people to speak according to the value system they believe in,” Omer Celik, spokesman for Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party, wrote on Twitter.
He added that “[what] is abnormal is demanding the contrary,” and accused the Ankara Bar Association of a “fascist mentality.”
Homosexuality is currently legal in Turkey. However, the country has become more conservative in recent years due to Erdoğan’s Islamist-influenced government, which has made moves away from the Muslim-majority nation’s previously secular nature.
Last year, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) said that Turkey was one of a number of European countries “moving backwards” in their treatment of LGBTQ people.
Poland has been criticized for using the COVID-19 pandemic as cover for a bill that would ban sex education and label its teachers as gay activists and pedophiles. The right-wing government has repeatedly targeted the country’s LGBTQ population since assuming power in 2015, and multiple towns and municipalities have declared themselves to be “LGBT-free” zones.
And earlier this month, Hungary proposed revoking the legal recognition of transgender people, with one European lawmaker saying the law “seeks to erase” the country’s trans community.
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