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Turkish authorities 'told Netflix to remove gay character from script to get licence for filming'

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By Emma Beswick
The logo of American entertainment company Netflix is pictured at the Paris games week in Paris, November 4, 2017.
The logo of American entertainment company Netflix is pictured at the Paris games week in Paris, November 4, 2017.   -   Copyright  Christophe Ena/AP

Turkish authorities told Netflix to remove a homosexual character from the script of series If Only in order to obtain filming rights, a source close to the streaming giant told Euronews.

The series' creator, screenwriter Ece Yorenc, said the streaming giant cancelled the drama on the eve of filming after the government blocked the project, according to Turkish film website Altyazi Fasikul.

The source said the project's permit to film was rejected by authorities and would only be reinstated on the condition the script was changed to remove the gay character.

Netflix decided to put an end to the series because the writer's creative vision could not be realised without the character, the source added.

"It is very scary for the future," Yorenc said.

She said the series centred around a character called Reyhan, a woman who is unhappily married and travels back in time 30 years to the night her husband proposed.

Yorenc added media reports that it included a sex scene involving a homosexual couple were untrue and that there was no physical contact between the gay man and other characters in the script.

Ilhan Tasci, a member of the state-run Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) told Euronews that the changes were made on a governmental level and that the organisation "didn't talk with Netflix officially".

"It's obvious that some government bureaucrats stepped in and have them made some changes but we don't exactly know what character was removed from which series," he said.

"These unofficial negotiations with Netflix are being conducted without our notice and knowledge," he said, adding they concerned "40 different films not only one film".

"This itself is a violation of the laws of the Turkish Broadcasting Authority. The government accepts that some sort of changes have been made but they don't reveal details so we don't know which films are affected."

The deputy chair of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Mahir Ünal, tweeted on Monday in the wake of If Only's cancellation saying he thought that in future "Netflix will show a higher sensitivity towards Turkish culture and art with deeper cooperation".

At the start of July, Ünal said a character on popular Turkish Netflix series Aşk 101 (Love 101) was originally scripted as being gay, according to Turkish news site Gazete Duvar.

Some claimed this confirmed suspicions of censorship.

In April, shortly before the series was released, the director of the broadcasting watchdog, Ebubekir Şahin, was reported by Ahval news website as saying the organisation would not tolerate a homosexual theme and that RTUK would hit Netflix with sanctions if the series featured such a character.

"Netflix remains deeply committed to our Turkish members and the creative community in Turkey," the streaming platform told Euronews in an emailed statement.

"We are proud of the incredible talent we work with. We currently have several Turkish originals in production - with more to come - and look forward to sharing these stories with our members all around the world."

Homosexuality is legal in modern Turkey but executive resistance to the LGBTQ community has increased in the last few years with actions such as the banning of the Istanbul Pride march, which has been the case for five years in a row, becoming more commonplace.