Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday defended a top religious official who claimed homosexuality caused disease, corrupted people and was condemned in Islamic teaching, AFP reported.
Ali Erbaş, head of Turkey’s top religious authority, Diyanet, which runs mosques and appoints imams, also claimed during his weekly sermon that homosexuality caused HIV.
The Ankara bar association accused him of inciting hatred against gay people while ignoring child abuse and misogyny.
But Erdoğan dismissed the criticism, saying, “An attack against the Diyanet chief is an attack on the state,” adding, “What he said was totally right.”
Erdoğan’s allies have attempted to shut down criticism of Erbaş — Ankara prosecutors have opened a probe into the bar association for “insulting the religious values adopted by a section of society,” and the Diyanet has filed a criminal complaint against the lawyers.
“Ali Erbaş, who voiced divine judgement, is not alone,” said Erdoğan’s spokesman, İbrahim Kalın, on Twitter — echoing a popular hashtag.
The spokesman for Erdogan’s ruling Islamic-rooted party, Ömer Çelik, insisted Erbaş’s comments were consistent with democratic values.
“Everyone has the fundamental right to speak in Turkey based on whatever value system they believe in,” Çelik said on Twitter.
On the other side, gay rights group Kaos GL said the religious chief had “spewed hatred” with “unscientific claims,” and the Ankara-based Human Rights Association said it would file a legal complaint against him.
The Diyanet was established in 1924 to oversee religion in secular Turkey after the abolition of the Islamic Caliphate in the wake of the Ottoman Empire’s collapse.
Critics say the organization has an outsized budget and is a symbol of creeping conservatism under Erdoğan, despite Turkey being formally secular.
Although homosexuality has been legal throughout modern Turkey’s history, gay people regularly face harassment and abuse.
In recent years, LGBT events have been blocked including Istanbul Pride, which has been banned five years in a row after taking place every year since 2003.