Plans to segregate LGBT convicts in Turkey | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 17.04.2014
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Plans to segregate LGBT convicts in Turkey

Turkey's justice and development minister has unveiled a proposal that would place LGBT convicts in jails separate from heterosexual inmates. Critics of the plan say it has little to do with "protecting" anyone.

Turkey's plan to construct a prison exclusively for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) convicts, doesn't come as much of a surprise to Hakan, a 30-year-old gay man in the capital, Ankara.

"They ban Twitter, then YouTube, now this...the government wants to ban the LGBT community, too."

Over the weekend, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) announced that plans were underway to construct separate prisons for openly gay inmates in a bid to "protect convicts" with different sexual orientations.

Currently, most prisoners who announce their sexuality are essentially segregated from heterosexual inmates in shared social spaces. The new prisons would separate them completely.

The country also recently introduced regulations around setting up so-called "pink wards," who would guard transgendered individuals in particular.

These measures, say the AKP, are to ensure the safety of LGBT people behind bars.

Avoiding 'honor killings'

While homosexuality has been legal in Turkey since the 19th century, it is not covered by any civil rights laws, nor is there any legal recognition for same-sex couples.

Additionally, religious and social conservatism influence large segments of Turkish society, resulting in discrimination against many non-traditional ways of life or practices.

In July 2012 Rosin Cicek was killed by his father and two uncles because of his sexual orientation in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir.

Four years earlier 26-year-old Ahmet Yıldız was killed, allegedly by his father, in what some called an "honor killing" after he admitted he was gay.

Discrimination at the national level

A Turkish soldier stands next to a tank.

A discriminatory policy still pervades the Turkish armed forces on issues of sexuality

The Turkish military requires all homosexuals seeking exemption from conscription to submit what many call humiliating "proof" of their sexual identity, such as explicit photographs, personality tests and questionnaires about their sexual preferences.

And Turkey's Culture Ministry restricted the viewing of the Oscar-winning gay romance "Brokeback Mountain," saying the movie violated public morals.

The latest available numbers from the Ministry of Justice show that, as of April 2013, there were 81 convicts who openly declared their sexual preference to prison authorities. However, the actual number of LGBT prisoners is likely higher as most convicts fear revealing their sexual identity due to the risk of abuse.

Winning votes

Erdogan with fireworks in the background

Erdogan's AKP party found success in local elections on May 30

Political scientist Sait Yilmaz says the project is more in line with political agendas then helping the LGBT community.

"The project stems from the pressure of a conservative society who are the main supporters of the AKP. So the AKP's stance on that issue seems to satisfy his supporters rather than gays."

Hakan agrees.

"The government is not interested in our rights, they just want to win more voters."

The ruling party may be feeling confident after claiming a fourth victory in local elections on March 31st, but Yilmaz points out there are many people unhappy with the government's latest plan.

"Many organizations in Turkey criticized that project due to the intentions to isolate these people."

LISTAG demonstrators march through Istanbul.

In the past, members of LISTAG, a Turkish LBGT group, have taken to Istanbul streets for improved rights

Gay life becoming visible

Murat Koylu is a spokesman for the Ankara-based gay rights group Kaos GL. He says such prisons will only lead to the profiling of gay inmates and create further problems.

"Instead of creating public areas where people from all sexual orientations can live together, the government has once again chosen to ostracize homosexuals.... How will the government be able to protect those prisoners who are not openly gay?"

Hakan, who wears his hair long to one side and paints his finger nails, says he's felt ostracized by society, but also says things are getting better.

"I was beaten up really bad in university, but now people seem to just be more used to it. There are even gay clubs in Ankara and Istanbul."

Gay life is becoming more visible in Turkey's big cities. Cafes and clubs with an openly gay clientele are becoming more accepted, and the country's annual gay pride parade more popular.

Yet many will still argue that progress on LGBT acceptance is slow and that a division in the prison system will only foster more discrimination in a country where LGBT rights are not legally protected.

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