Police officers in Turkey have raided the offices of a leading LGBT organisation on the pretence that “frequent visits by transgender people” were grounds to issue a search warrant.
Lawyers for the Lambda Istanbul Cultural Centre later discovered that an accusation had been lodged against the association for “participating in illegal prostitution activities, procuring transgender sex workers and sharing their earnings.”
More than a dozen plainclothes officers spent two hours at the centre on Monday afternoon.
“They examined the premises and all materials in the office, and also collected the identity cards of everyone who entered the centre,” a spokesperson for Lambda said.
“At the end of their search they were not able to find evidence of a criminal offence; however, they took with them some important documents regarding Lambda’s financial and membership systems.
“Lambda Istanbul is also currently involved in a court case over the association’s right to apply for official status as an organisation, following a complaint by the city governorship that Lambda should be closed down as the group is a threat to Turkish family values and public decency.
“Our fifth hearing will be held on April 17.
“We are hoping that this case will be ruled in our favour but are prepared to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary.
“We’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for your ongoing support. Your messages of solidarity mean a lot to us.”
Lambda claims that Labrys, a gay rights group in Kyrgyzstan, was also raided by the police on the same day under the pretext of illegal prostitution activity and forced to submit various papers.
Government officials have made similar legal moves to shut down lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender organisations in Turkey but failed.
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.
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.
Turkey is a candidate country for EU membership, but concerns about human rights are one factor frustrating negotiations.
The closing of Lambda would be a devastating blow for the European LGBT emancipation movement, according to COC.
Mr Van Dalen has called on the Dutch government to not support Turkey’s application for EU membership until “basic human rights are fully respected by Turkey.”