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Gay Syrian Refugee Murdered in Turkey

Muhammad Wisam Sankari
Muhammad Wisam Sankari

Muhammad Wisam Sankari was beheaded and mutilated in Turkey, which has admitted many Syrian refugees but failed to protect the rights of LGBT ones.

A gay Syrian refugee has been found beheaded and mutilated in Turkey, pointing to the dangers that LGBT refugees face in that country.

Muhammad Wisam Sankari's body was found July 25 in a central district of Istanbul, and his identity was confirmed by his housemates, the BBC reports.

One of the housemates, identified only as Rayan, told a local LGBT rights group that Sankari had been kidnapped, beaten, and raped by a group of men about five months ago. "We complained to the police headquarters, but nothing happened," Rayan said.

Sankari's friends said LGBT people face significant persecution in Turkey, whether they are natives or from elsewhere. Turkey has the largest number of refugees from war-torn Syria of any country, with 2.7 million registered by the government. Parts of Syria are controlled by the terrorist group ISIS, making life particularly dangerous for LGBT people.

But Turkey's government has failed to protect LGBT Syrian refugees, who fare even worse than Turkish LGBT citizens, activists say. "Their legal status is precarious -- they are usually undocumented and most are reluctant to report assaults to police," the BBC notes of Syrian refugees in Turkey.

This situation continues to exist even though representatives of Turkey were among those who heard testimony at the United Nations last year on the need to offer a safe haven for LGBT refugees from Syria and elsewhere. The groundbreaking testimony came from Syrian refugee Subhi Nahas, who spent time in Turkey before coming to the United States, and an Iraqi refugee identified only as "Adnan," whose location was not revealed.

Friends of Sankari also say the U.N. is not doing enough to protect LGBT people in Turkey. There has been a rise in hate crimes and homophobic rhetoric in Turkey recently, even in conservative media outlets' discussion of the mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, according to Cagil Kasapoglu of the BBC Turkish Service. Much of the rhetoric comes from ultraconservative Muslims and from the far-right nationalist group Alperen Hearths.

But Turkish government and law enforcement appear hostile to LGBT people as well. Authorities barred activists from holding a Pride parade in Istanbul this year, for the second year in a row, citing the need to protect "security and public order." Organizers attempted to hold a rally in June despite the ban, but police broke up the event by firing rubber bullets and releasing tear gas into the crowd, just as they did to would-be Pride celebrants the previous year.

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