Erdogan Backs Cleric Who Claims Homosexuality Brings Disease

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threw his weight behind Turkey’s top Muslim cleric on Monday, who had caused a storm by claiming homosexuality “brings disease and causes this generation to decay,” the Associated Press (AP) reports.

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.”

The AP is reporting that 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 itself.

Erdogan 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 legally banned in Turkey. Erdogan’s government has, however,  in the past few years banned LGBT parades and other events, often citing public security, the AP reports.