Neşe İdil / Duvar English

A non-governmental organization advocating the rights of individuals living with HIV has called on Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) head Ali Erbaş to apologize for his homophobic remarks, urging him to respect human rights.

“We call on Erbaş, who is discriminating the society with hate speech, to apologize, especially from HIV-positive individuals,” the Positive Living Association said on April 27.

Erbaş on April 24 targeted LGBT individuals in a sermon, saying, “Homosexuality causes diseases and decays lineage,” citing a verse from the Koran.

“Islam accepts adultery as one of the biggest sins [haram]. It curses homosexuality, because it causes diseases and decay to lineage,” Erbaş said in the sermon marking the first day of Ramadan amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Diyanet head Ali Erbaş.

“Hundreds of thousands of people are exposed to the HIV virus caused by living out of wedlock, which is called adultery in Islamic literature, each year. Let’s struggle together to protect people from these types of evils,” he added.

Erbaş’s remarks were slammed by a number of associations, with the Positive Living Association saying that his statements contradict logic, science and law.

It also pointed to the fact that the Diyanet is a member of the National AIDS Commission, which was established in 1996 in order to stop the spread of HIV infection, prevent stigmatization and discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS.

“Erbaş’s statements showed how far he is from the commission’s studies, and how he ignores the rights guaranteed by science and law,” it said.

The association then went on to share details of HIV infection process.

“HIV does not infect by fornication or illegitimate relationships as mentioned. The transmission modes of HIV are scientifically clear. Unprotected sexual intercourse is one of the transmission ways of HIV. However, there is no transmission from individuals living with HIV who are treated and who scientifically meet the U=N [Unidentified = Non-Transmissible] criteria,” it said.

Turkey has been blocking LGBT prides, with homophobic statements pouring against the community each year.

Urging Erbaş to stop portraying HIV as a sin or a curse, the association said that targeting people living with HIV is not in line with the unity and solidarity needed amid the pandemic.

“As the Positive Living Association, we would like to reiterate that we are struggling against everyone targeting individuals living with HIV and that we are always here,” it added.

Don’t be surprised if Erbaş calls for witch hunt’

Ankara Bar, meanwhile, said that they condemn Erbaş and his mindset, adding that he incites people to hate and enmity.

“What we are surprised about is the dare of this individual, whose voice is archaic, in inciting hate and enmity via building his discourse on values deemed holy as he occupies a state institution,” the bar said.

“This individual shows great resistance against human dignity to have the same mental and dogmatic limitations with his ancestors from generations back,” it added.

The bar pointed to the fact that Erbaş gets his salary in exchange for remaining silent in the face of sexual abuse of children and trying to legitimize violence against women on religious grounds.

“No one should be surprised when he invites people to burn women with torches claiming that they are witches in his next speech if he stays in his post despite his statements on earthquakes, LGBTIQ+, women and children,” it said.

Following the statement, Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation into the bar on April 27 over insulting religious values.

‘Erbaş legitimizes lynching LGBT individuals’

The Ankara branch of the Human Rights Association (İHD) slammed Erbaş for committing a hate crime, saying that his call for joint action against homosexuality legitimizes lynching of LGBT individuals.

The association said that it filed a criminal complaint against Erbaş, while calling on authorities to remove him from his post.

Pointing to the fact that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is responsible for hate crimes against homosexuals via not launching legal action against Erbaş, the İHD reiterated that it’s against this wave of hatred.

‘We continue to defend life in spite of hatred’

The İzmir Bar said that Erbaş’s hate speech shouldn’t be left without legal consequences in line with the laws and international agreements that Turkey is a party to.

“We are rightfully concerned about the potential of these statements in creating new hate crimes,” the bar said.

“We will continue to defend life in spite of hatred,” it added.

Gov’t expresses support to Erbaş

Despite his blatant call for hate crimes and hate speech, Erbaş received massive support from AKP officials.

A hashtag saying, “Ali Erbaş is not alone” was widely shared on social media, with government officials using it as well.

Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül was one of the officials to slam those criticizing Erbaş, with his focus mainly on the Ankara Bar’s statement.

“The voice that you arrogantly humiliate by saying that it’s archaic is the voice of Islam that’s above all ages and that will continue until doomsday,” Gül said.

“Those who insult the provisions of Allah, the creator of time and space, are in defeat in both this world and the afterlife. Ali Erbaş, who voiced the holy provision, is not alone,” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s spokesperson İbrahim Kalın said.

“Islam’s norms are not those that can be questioned arbitrarily by the people improperly attacking Ali Erbaş,” Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun said.

‘All attempts to attack our values will be opposed by the society’

Family and Social Policies Minister Zehra Zümrüt Selçuk said that Erbaş reminded the people of religious values “to protect our families and generations.”

“We stand with Ali Erbaş. All attempts to attack our national and moral values will be opposed by the society,” Selçuk said.

‘This is Islam’s provision’

AKP deputy leader Mahir Ünal was another official to voice his support to Erbaş, saying that Erbaş voiced Islam’s provision and not his own ideas.

According to Ünal, those criticizing Erbaş consist of people with disregard to moral values of the society in the public sphere with their words and actions.