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Gay-rights activists take part in the 15th gay pride week parade on the street of Istiklal in Istanbul July 1, 2007. © 2007 Reuters

In a televised speech on November 9, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized a municipality that included slots for LGBT people on a neighborhood committee, suggesting that the move was at odds with national values. The speech was seen as an attack on the main opposition party, which runs the town.

Nine days later, the Ankara governor banned all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) events in the province for an indefinite period. A string of bans on LGBT-related events followed in other parts of the country, shutting down plans for film screenings, exhibitions, forums, panel discussions, and public meetings. Local authorities cited “social sensitivities,” “protecting public health and morality,” “protecting other people’s rights and freedoms,” and “public security” as reasons for the bans.

Two Turkish LGBTI groups, Pembe Hayat (Pink Life) and Kaos GL, have gone to court over the bans.

These restrictions on freedoms of expression, assembly, and association for LGBT people violate their fundamental human rights as enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and other international treaties.

In 2010, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe – which includes the Turkish  foreign affairs minister – adopted unanimously LGBT recommendations to member states that stipulate that “member states should take appropriate measures at national, regional and local levels to ensure that the right to freedom of peaceful assembly can be effectively enjoyed, without discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The recommendations also say that member states should prevent restrictions on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly “resulting from the abuse of legal or administrative provisions, for example on grounds of public health, public morality and public order.”

The Turkish government urgently needs to stop this apparent campaign to ban LGBT-related events and gatherings, and make sure that provincial and local authorities adhere to the human rights obligations Turkey agreed upon when ratifying international treaties such as the ECHR. They should actively protect LGBTI people when they hold public events instead of trying to keep them from exercising their rights.  

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