Eighteen members of an LGBT rights group in Bursa, Turkey, remain in custody since their arrest Saturday on racketeering and prostitution charges, and their lawyer has not been given access to their files, the Turkish Daily News reported Wednesday.
The activists are members of the Rainbow Solidarity and Cultural Association, one of only four Turkish gay rights groups with government permission to operate. Homosexuality has been legal in Turkey since the 1850s, but activists are often harassed and gay people find it difficult to live openly in the secular Muslim state.
Saturday's arrest of association president Oyku Erven and 17 others was on charges of "forming a gang to commit crimes, being an associate with a gang and inciting prostitution," the Daily News reported. Bursa officials, who unsuccessfully fought to have the group banned last year, are continuing their investigation, the paper said.
An activist who has worked with the Rainbow Association on anti-war campaigns told the paper he had never heard of members staying in the homes rented by the association being pressured to prostitute themselves.
"But," he said, "as they are not given an opportunity in life, they are forced to do this kind of work."
The activists' attorney, Ayse Batumlu, told the paper she had not been granted access to the court files, which remained classified Tuesday.
In 2006, Bursa's deputy governor fought to have the group shut down as a menace to public morals. Prosecutors then refused to do so, pointing out that being gay is not illegal in Turkey, reports another LGBT group, Kaos GL of Ankara, which fought off similar challenges in 2005 and again this year. (Barbara Wilcox, The Advocate)