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Turkey: Officials Try to Shut Down Rights Group

Turkey: Officials Try to Shut Down Rights Group

The threat by Turkish officials to close down an organization defending lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people's rights violates basic freedoms of association and expression, Human Rights Watch said today.

Selahattin Ekremoglu, deputy governor of the Turkish capital Ankara, on September 15 wrote a letter to the gay and lesbian group Kaos GL that said a court procedure had been opened to dissolve the organization. He claimed that the name and regulations of the group violated a provision in the Turkish Civil Code that forbids "establishing any organization that is against the laws and principles of morality."

"Turkey has a long record of suppressing civil society and harassing human rights defenders," said Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Project at Human Rights Watch. "This dangerous new move shows that old habits die hard, and calls into question recent advances in rights protections."

Kaos GL Gay and Lesbian Cultural Research and Solidarity Organization is an 11-year-old, Ankara-based collective that operates a drop-in center providing social and cultural support to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The group also advocates for measures to end discrimination and violence, and it publishes a magazine that has been registered as a legal publication since 1999.

On July 15, Kaos GL applied to the Ministry of Interior for recognition as a nongovernmental organization. The ministry initially approved the request, but the Ankara deputy governor, who reports to the Interior Ministry, has now responded by launching a lawsuit to close the organization.

"Sweeping references to ‘morality’ in the Turkish Civil Code still offer a pretext for discrimination and abuse of basic rights," said Long. "Equal protection doesn't include exclusion for sexual orientation or gender identity."

Turkey has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which protects freedoms of expression and association and also forbids discrimination on the basis of sex. In 1994 the U.N. Human Rights Committee held that “sexual orientation” was a status protected against discrimination by the treaty.

Turkey has also ratified the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which affirms freedoms of expression and association. The European Court of Human Rights has condemned discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in a succession of cases. (See http://hrw.org/lgbt/jurisprudence.htm).

In a briefing paper on Turkey's progress toward admission to the European Union, Human Rights Watch last year said that, "The government continues to ease the restrictions on associations by small degrees." However, the paper also noted, "for organizations viewed with suspicion by the authorities, including human rights organizations, day-to-day life feels like life under a police state: annual meetings and press conferences are often monitored by plain clothes police officers toting video cameras, while local prosecutors maintain a hail of litigation."

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