ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday threw his weight behind Turkey’s top Muslim cleric, who caused a storm by claiming homosexuality “brings disease and causes this generation to decay.”
In his first sermon during the holy month of Ramadan on Friday, Ali Erbas also maintained that hundreds of thousands of people every year are exposed to HIV due to homosexuality and adultery and called on worshipers to come together to fight “this kind of evil.”
Opposition and rights groups condemned the comments by Erbas, who heads Turkey’s Religious Affairs Presidency.
But in a public address following a Cabinet meeting Monday, Erdogan said any attack on Erbas amounted to an attack on the state.
Erdogan — a pious Muslim whose ruling party has roots in Turkey’s Islamic movement — said Erbas had fulfilled the duties of “faith, the wisdom (of Islam) and of his office” and that his words were binding for all Muslims. He said the tone of the criticism against the cleric had turned into a “deliberate attack against Islam.”
The Ankara-based Human Rights Association has filed a criminal complaint against Erbas, accusing him of sedition, and the Ankara lawyers’ association accused him of inciting hatred. The association called for his removal from office, saying it would not be surprised if the cleric were next to call on people “to light torches and burn women as witches.”
Meanwhile, the Ankara chief prosecutor’s office said it was launching a criminal investigation against the Ankara lawyers’ group for “insulting religious values.” Many ruling party officials and supporters have also rallied around Erbas on Twitter.
Homosexuality is not banned in Turkey. Erdogan’s government however has in the past few years banned LGBT parades and other events, often citing public security.