Turkey Pulse

'Unnatural' porn becomes ticket to jail in Turkey

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Article Summary
The Constitutional Court’s decision to ban pornography featuring “unnatural sexual behavior” has confounded Turkey and provoked average people to speak out about sex.

Turkey's Constitutional Court handed down a decision April 20 ruling that the production, ownership or distribution of pornographic materials containing “unnatural sexual behavior is punishable by one to four years in jail and a fine of some 100,000 Turkish liras ($35,000). These “unnatural” acts were determined to be oral, anal, group and gay and lesbian sexual encounters. The highest court in Turkey thus upheld a lower court decision, rejecting the appeal of an unidentified man from Aydin who had been caught with pornographic images on a flash drive.

This was not the first time the courts had decided on jail time involving pornographic material. In June 2012, the Court of Appeals had decided that an increased penalty could be applied to a man caught selling pornographic CDs, because they contained “unnatural acts.” While the lower courts had sentenced the seller to a year in prison, the appeals court requested a longer sentence. Amid pundits' debates about the right to privacy, the decision was seen as a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights concerning the right to respect for private and family life.

In this latest episode, experts were particularly appalled that owning pornography and self-recorded acts of pornography are now punishable by jail time. Lawyers and judges also found themselves debating the frequency of same-sex intercourse and group sex among animals, given the label of "unnatural sexual behavior." Yet, if the "natural world" sets the standard for common sexual acts, one can find a diverse range of sexual activities.

An Internet law has been in effect in Turkey since May 2007 that allows for images that could be classified as obscene to be banned immediately. So far, 78,553 websites have been censored, with 94.2% of the measures enforced by the Department of Telecommunications.

To operate a porn site in Turkey, one needs to make sure it has warnings prohibiting viewing by minors, verifies users through log-ins and receipt of a text message and an agreement for payment by credit card. These criteria were introduced to protect minors from accessing porn websites.

Although gay porn was legal until the April 20 decision, several sites for the LGBT community were shut down in the past without proper justification. “Nikopol,” the founder and director of the Turkish LGBTI organization and Turkish Gay Club, told Al-Monitor, “I was charged with distributing material with unnatural sexual encounters. It was just a link to a trans Web page another member had posted, and because of that I was charged with porn distribution.” He added, “Funny thing is, although we were accused of using animals for sex, there was not even a photo of a cat on our Web pages.”

The April 20 decision sparked an uproar in the Turkish media, leading the Constitutional Court to reiterate that its decision had not banned the performance of any sex act and only applied to the recording, viewing and sharing of certain material. The public’s main concern was not so much the porn, but the ambiguous term “unnatural sexual acts.” Not many can understand why the court would develop such a definition or why pedophilic, necrophilic and zoophilic pornography were excluded from the list. Pundits have outspokenly ridiculed the decision. For example, Hande Cayir wrote a searing column, “So how to perform the missionary position,” which she laced with salacious details.

Bianet, an independent news outlet, announced the news accompanied by an image of dozens of different sexual positions, and Turkish social media has produced amused reactions, including the following:

  • The state has now determined our style of sex, which is good because we did not know what we were doing.
  • If the government and the courts are making the decisions on sex, how would that work? Would people prepare to have sex by reading law books?
  • Excuse me! Look our respected leaders, “unnatural sexual position” is a code for the way you govern this country.
  • Constitutional Court says you can have oral sex, just don’t record it.
  • To find the news about the decision I had to type into Google “Constitutional Court anal, oral.” I swear I am going to burn my law degree!
  • My love, it is not that I don’t want that position, but the Constitutional Court does not approve it.
  • Constitutional Court’s decision on porn and sexuality are the harbingers of this corrupt administration’s future “morality fascism.”
  • Just like any other developed country, Turkey’s public debate is centered around sex. This is the new and strong Turkey! Thank you, Constitutional Court.

As people from all walks of life were enjoying an excuse, provided by the highest court in Turkey, to openly chat about sex, whether natural or unnatural, it was intriguing to note that women were more vocal than men on the issue. Why would the average, middle-aged woman support the right to own and view porn openly in a rather conservative society?

One reason is that women have frequently and intensely felt themselves the victims of discriminatory sexual politics introduced by the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Women were also dumbfounded by the definition of “unnatural” sex and the sanctioning punitive measures for consensual adult porn in the face of increasing levels of pedophilia, demand for child porn, abuse and rape of children, violence against minors and repeated instances of perpetrators of such crimes receiving little or no punishment from the courts.

People are finding it difficult to comprehend what the Constitutional Court had hoped to achieve with its decision. When interviewed by Al-Monitor, Barbaros Sansal, a famous fashion designer and outspoken activist, asked amusingly, “What is natural sex? That the government pays for sex change operations?” Sansal also observed that Gulay Gokturk, a pro-AKP columnist, had penned a piece arguing that animated child pornography should be protected on the basis of freedom of expression. Gokturk argued that strict bans on sex-related matters tend only to exacerbate tendencies. She was charged with "promoting crime through publications" but acquitted.

Given all the evident contradictions in public morality in Turkey, it is difficult to know what the court is really trying to protect.

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Found in: turkey, sexuality, pornography, lgbt, justice and development party, internet, constitutional court

Pinar Tremblay is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse and a visiting scholar of political science at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. She is a columnist for Turkish news outlet T24. Her articles have appeared in Time, New America, Hurriyet Daily News, Today's Zaman, Star and Salom. On Twitter: @pinartremblay

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