The Backstage to the Hate Crimes Law

Source: Melda Onur, “Nefret Suçları Yasasının Perde Arkası,” (“The Backstage to the Hate Crimes Law,”), 1 October 2013,

I did not expect much from the democracy package. “It is not worth talking about a package that does not demand changes in the Turkish Civil Code (TMK) and the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) and that continues to defend the election threshold” but I have to talk about one point: Hate Crimes…     

About a year and a half ago, a group reached me via e-mail; they started a campaign called “I Demand Hate Crimes Legislation.” They wanted me to sign the petition and help them reach other deputies to sign. The name of the campaign was “Don’t Hate” (“Nefretme“). I went back in time to my days of journalism and NGO activism and I rolled up my sleeves to enter the process. I signed the petition and I did my best to get other deputies to sign. But really, I had two principal issues to deal with. First, I had to help the campaign in media publicity. Second, I had to help the team contact commission leaders.

I immediately contacted the Association for Social Change (ASC), which embraces this campaign. I met Murat Köylü and Levent Şensever at ASC and we launched a media publicity campaign and a schedule for the Grand National Assembly of Turkey. During this process, I met Yasemin Inceoğlu, a rare scholar who works on hate crimes. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) Bursa Parliamentarian Aykan Erdemir, who has been working on this issue for years, already had contacts with the association in the legislative process. My part was to help create public opinion.

We called my friends who work in the media and set dates. We talked to many people including Tayfun Devecioğlu, then the chief editor of mainstream Turkish daily newspaper Milliyet, and columnist Ahmet Hakan who writes for mainstream Turkish daily newspaper Hürriyet. We asked for their support. Through this process, the campaign grew and became an important platform with the participation of approximately 70 NGOs.

The LGBT Problem in the Commissions

Then we had to start working with the commissions. We had meetings with the Constitutional Reconciliation Commission, Woman-Man Equal Opportunities Commission, Human Rights Commission, Justice Commission, EU Adaptation Commission. I participated in some of them. The situation was like this:

4-5 participants of the “Don’t Hate” campaign and I would start to explain Hate Speech and Hate Crimes. Commission chairmen, all from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) would start listening with prudent interest. We gave examples: the Zirve Publishing House Massacre, attacks against Armenians, attacks against Alevis, attacks against girls wearing headscarves… Their nods would turn into smiles that emit a sense of strong agreement. Until we get to the crimes committed against LGBTs… The moment we mention the LGBT, that agreeing countenance turns into a soured expression and return to indifference. This was such an obvious attitude.

There have been law proposals in the Parliament before but they all neglected LGBTs. It was mostly the political hate crimes that became the basis for such legal demands. However, there is an obvious non-political but very tangible target group.

This Law Will Not Pass with This Government

The “Don’t Hate” campaign could not reach the government. Even when it did, there was no feedback. One day in Ankara, the MPs got an invitation. The Human Rights Research Association (IHAD) issued a call for a brainstorming session on the Hate Crimes Law. Müslüm Sarı and I joined. They told us about their draft. While talking with the human rights group that includes Yılmaz Ensarioğlu, the ex-chairman of the Organization of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed People (MAZLUMDER) and the current director of the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA), we told them about the “Don’t Hate” campaign and asked if they were part of the platform. They said they knew the platform and followed it but they were not part of it. I argued that we should merge our forces rather than separate them and insisted that they join the campaign. While doing so, I realized that they may be hesitant because of the LGBT organizations in the “Don’t Hate” Campaign. It became obvious after a few questions anyway. We started to discuss what it means to replace the term “sexual orientation” with “gender,” to them there was no difference but I saw a huge difference.

The point we reached was this: it was not a problem for them but this government would not allow a law that obviously references LGBTs to pass. For this reason the law could be delayed or fail to pass. The human rights movement was split into two because of this.

A human rights advocate summed up a situation that resembled the IHAD example like this:  “The LGBT movement is small but very effective; it has split the human rights movement into two. Some argue “let’s subsume it under the word “gender” and go on.” Others say they will not continue without LGBTs.”  

Who would you not want to be neighbors with?

On 30 September 2013 when the Prime Minister talked about hate crimes, he was not thinking about hate-motivated killings. He was interested in the defamation of Islam and of Islamophobia, which does not exist in Turkey. Moreover, he mostly talked about hate speech rather than hate crime. In fact, for it to be considered a hate crimes, a person would have to be subjected to physical violence because s/he fasts, prays or believes in God.   

To illustrate hate crimes; the honor killings committed recently were hate crimes in their exact meaning. Did the Prime Minister talk about this? Did he mention the murder of Sevag Balıkçı? We would not expect him to talk about Transvestite Dora. We would not expect it but we cannot give up on this: The Hate Crimes Law cannot be enacted without LGBTs. In fact, if we are looking for the target group of hate crimes, we should take a look at the “Who would you not want to be neighbors with” surveys. There we will find the target groups of hate speech and hate crimes.

    Homosexuals %84

    People with AIDS %74

    Unmarried couples %68

    Atheists %64

    Shari’a Supporters %54

    Christians %48

    People who believe in other religions %39

    Immigrants, foreign workers %39

    People whose daughters wear shorts %26

    People who do not fast %20

    People who do not vote for your party %17

   (Bahçeşehir University 2011 Values Research)

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