An attempt by the Governor’s Office of Istanbul to close down Lambda Istanbul, an LGBT group, has raised questions about human rights in Turkey.

A department responsible for non-governmental organisations alleges that the group violates Turkish laws on morality.

The Governor had asked in early 2007 that the group be shut down.

In July local prosecutors rejected the complaint but the Governor’s Office then took the case to a higher court which heard the case in July 2007 and ordered a second hearing which begins tomorrow.

Turkey is a candidate country for EU membership, but concerns about human rights are one factor frustrating negotiations.

The secular Muslim country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

Both treaties protect the rights to freedom of expression and association and prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The chairman of Dutch gay rights group COC, Frank van Dalen, says that closing Lambda Istanbul would be against non-discriminatory guidelines issued by the European Union and against the universal right to free speech.

“As a potential member to the EU, Turkey should respect these EU guidelines. It’s intention to close down Lambda Istanbul is in all ways not in line with EU guidelines,” he said.

Homosexual sex is legal for over 18’s in Turkey but vaguely worded legal provisions on public morals are often used to harass LGBT people.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said that basic freedoms of association and expression are under threat in Turkey.

“Shutting down groups because you don’t like the people they represent is an attack on freedom itself,” said Juliana Cano Nieto, researcher in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Programme at HRC.

“If organisations that defend human rights cannot function, Turkey’s status as a real democracy is in danger.”

Lambda Istanbul aims to support all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people to adopt equality as a value, to realise their inner selves and to help bring peace and welfare; to guide LGBT individuals in becoming more professional, more active and responsible towards society and in social matters.”

It has actively lobbied for legal protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Government officials have made similar legal moves to shut down other lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender organisations in Turkey.

Kaos GL, based in Ankara, faced a demand for closure from Ankara’s deputy governor, Selahattin Ekmenoglu, in 2005. The closure petition was dismissed by prosecutors.

Next month Dutch gay group COC is due begin working with Lambda Istanbul on a three-year project, with the support of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The closing of Lambda Istanbul based on public morality issues and claiming Lambda would erode the institution of the traditional family, would be a devastating blow for the European LGBT-emancipation movement, according to COC.

“Poland was able to include similar grounds of protest in the EU-treaty and this country will interpret the Lambda case as supportive to its belief,” said Mr Van Dalen.

“With a negative ruling, Poland will further limit the Polish LGBT-movement.”

He called on the Dutch government to not support Turkey’s EU-membership until basic human rights are fully respected by Turkey.

“We don’t need a second Poland within the EU,” he said.