Turkey’s prison authorities have announced they will be building facilities in order to segregate LGBT prisoners in order to, in the government’s words, better protect minorities. Yet, LGBT rights groups say this is just another form of punishment.
The government-led project was first announced last weekend by Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag in response to parliamentary questions. The plan, Bozdag says, is to create a separate facility for those convicts who declare themselves gay (it is thought the policy will apply to others under the LGBT bracket as well, though no official confirmation has been given).
“Projects are underway for the construction of separate penitentiaries to house inmates with divergent sexual orientations,” Bozdag is quoted as saying. “Convicts who stated that they are gay will not mix with other convicts in the communal area or during social activities in the new prison facilities.”
This, Bozdag says, is to offer protection to those convicts that currently may face violence and sexual assault in facilities where they are housed with heterosexual and birth-sex conforming inmates.
It’s important to stress that homosexuality isn’t actually illegal in Turkey, but that LGBT identity remains taboo and, while there is no legal provision directly attacking LGBT identity, public morality laws have been cited to justify institutionalized discrimination. Regular readers will recall that last year a popular LGBT networking and dating site, Grindr, was banned in the country by court fiat after the court deemed it potentially harmful to public morality. Strong international concerns were also raised about LGBT honor killings in Turkey, and whether the government is doing enough to prevent such killings.
Bozdag contends that, under the current system, many LGBT prisoners end up in solitary confinement. Creating an LGBT-only facility would, therefore, help provide better protection while still giving LGBT prisoners as much freedom as possible.
Were this idea to be pursued, it would make Turkey the first country in recent memory to create a specifically designated prison building for gay inmates, though Italy has actually created separate facilities to house trans prisoners and, closer to home, LA has separate detention facilities for trans inmates — something that has been treated as a positive move. However, not everyone is thrilled with Turkey’s plans.
LGBT rights group believe that this segregation policy will in fact end up supporting discrimination in the country by sending the message that the government feels LGBT prisoners must be kept separate from the rest of the population.
Murat Koylu of local LGBT rights group Kaos GL has criticized the measure as “the worst type of message for a state that is supposed to be acting in a pluralist way [...] If the government behaves like this, it’s great evidence for those who are in favor of homophobia, they would use it as proof (of their views).”
Koylu believes the government’s focus would be better spent on tackling discrimination at its root, implying that segregation is simply the easy way out for the government which, while not overtly hostile to LGBTs, hasn’t made a stand for them publicly either. “Instead of creating public areas where people from all sexual orientations can live together, the government has once again chosen to ostracize homosexuals. … This will lead to the profiling of gay prisoners, as well as their families and the prison itself. How will the government be able to protect those prisoners who are not openly gay?”
The concerns over profiling are perhaps the strongest among these objections. In a country that holds tight to Islamic teachings about propriety and sexuality, forcing LGBT prisoners to out themselves in order to receive protection comes with the added danger that their families may become targets as a result of the stigma associated with being LGBT. There’s also the worry of how this might impact prisoners once they are released. For instance, this disclosure may stay with them when they apply for employment or education opportunities and may stifle their chances.
Turkey is currently in the process of potentially joining the European Union, which demands certain fundamental rights be provided LGBT populations. The presiding Justice and Development Party (AKP), heavily religious as it is, has so far refused to recognize the civil rights of LGBT people and the term “begrudging tolerance” seems apt. Whether the EU application can help steer this prison policy in a more sensitive direction remains to be seen, but this again stresses how the EU can–though, obviously in some cases like Russia, not always–provide incentives for member states and potential member states to protect minority populations.
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