A Turkish court on April 24 delivered a verdict of acquittal for İzmir Bar Association's chair and ten board members from the 2018-2021 term in the highly publicized case concerning their reaction to Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) President Ali Erbaş's comments targeting the LGBTI+ community and diverse lifestyles in Turkey.
Lawyers on trial for the alleged “public insult of religious values” said in their defense that their statement lacked any criminal elements. They pointed out it was in fact Erbaş's hate speech that constituted the real criminal offense. “We persist in our advocacy for life, in spite of hate, and demand our acquittal,” they said.
The court decided for the acquittal of the lawyers on the grounds that "there was no element of crime."
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, in a Friday sermon delivered in April 2020, Erbaş sparked controversy by directing hostile remarks at the LGBTI+ community. His statement of “Homosexuality brings diseases and corrupts the new generations” drew widespread criticism and condemnation. Nonetheless, top government officials including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan embraced this statement.
Following Erbaş's statement, İzmir Bar Association stated, "Hate speech aims to eliminate human rights and freedoms along with historical gains. It is this discriminatory and hateful understanding that must be fought.”
The bar association added that they were concerned about the possibility that Erbaş's statement could fuel new hate crimes.
“We believe that hate speech should not go unpunished in light of the international conventions to which we are a party and our laws,” they said.
Afterwards, Diyanet filed a criminal complaint against the lawyers in question.