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22 August 2012

TURKEY: How far will new Constitution protect freedom of religion or belief?

Turkey's Constitutional Reconciliation Commission (AUK) has begun the drafting a new Constitution. But the political parties represented on the AUK have not reached a consensus on freedom of religion or belief, Forum 18 News Service notes. What are the implications of the new Constitution's possible omission of parts of Turkey's international religious freedom commitments, affecting for example religious education, conscientious objection, and the neutrality of the state? The scope of constitutional guarantees of religious freedom in Turkey should not be limited by the boundaries of the AKP government. Constitutional provisions must reflect the provisions on religious freedom in Turkey's international human rights commitments.

13 June 2012

TURKEY: Religious groups, expectations of the new Constitution, and the AKP

Turkey's Constitutional Reconciliation Commission (AUK) has started writing the new draft Constitution, starting with the section on fundamental rights. It remains unclear whether the new Constitution will ensure a neutral state and an effective protection of the right to freedom of thought, religion or belief for all. Many religious groups have presented their views to the AUK, which addressed longstanding problems they have encountered exercising freedom of religion or belief. Yet some recent government decisions, and the way they have been taken, appear to contradict hopes for a democratic state that respects fundamental human rights. The AKP's recent policies fail to show a determination to take the bold steps needed to address the realities of Turkey's pluralistic society, and resolve the problems faced by all religious or belief groups.

1 May 2012

TURKEY: Selective progress on conscientious objection

Two recent Turkish military court decisions concerning conscientious objection claims have shown recognition of the right to conscientious objection to military service as a human right but a selective application. These come amid contradictory Turkish government responses to Council of Europe pressure backing European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgments requiring Turkey to bring its laws into line with international human rights standards. The military court judgments should be read carefully, as they show the limits of the right to conscientious objection currently recognised in Turkey, Forum 18 News Service notes. In particular, the courts suggest that ECtHR judgments on conscientious objection uphold the right to conscientious objection only of objectors who are members of groups that object to military service on intellectual, religious or political grounds. The courts also use selective theological judgments to back this, and appear to question the right to change one's convictions in relation to conscientious objection. The need for a comprehensive legal framework remains urgent. As Muslim conscientious objector Muhammed Serdar Delice stated, "regardless of one's religion, conscientious objection is everyone's right".

15 February 2012

TURKEY: "Denigrating religious values" - A way to silence critics of religion?

The prosecutions of - among others - a cartoonist, a contributor to a website, and the publisher of a diary have raised concerns about how the complementary human rights of freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief can be exercised in Turkey, including the religious freedom right not to believe. All the prosecutions relate to questioning or criticism of all religions, or Islam specifically, from an atheist perspective. Article 216 (3) of the Criminal Code ("Denigrating the religious values of a group") is the legal basis of the prosecutions. The manner in which Article 216 (3) is applied is of great importance in enabling Turkey to implement its international human rights obligations, Forum 18 News Service notes. Restrictions must not be applied "recklessly", as human rights lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz puts it. For this silences critics of religions or beliefs, and the right to make such criticism is an integral part of the right to freedom of religion or belief.

30 November 2011

TURKEY: The new Constitution drafting process and freedom of religion or belief

Turkey's new Constitution drafting process offers many possibilities for the protection of freedom of religion or belief. Forum 18 News Service notes that the constitutional legal framework will determine how far religious freedom will be protected. Questions that remain to be answered include: Will the Diyanet, or Presidency of Religious Affairs under the Prime Minister, continue to be identified as a constitutional body? Will manifestations of religion or belief in worship, practice, teaching and observance be explicitly protected? Will "laiklik", often perhaps misleadingly translated as "secularism", be maintained in the new Constitution? Will Article 174 ("Preservation of Reform Laws") of the current 1982 Constitution be deleted or re-interpreted? Recent developments on conscientious objection and ongoing problems resulting from legislation and practice suggest that, unless these issues are addressed, there may not be significant improvement in the constitutional protection of freedom of religion or belief for all.

6 October 2011

TURKEY: What does Turkey's Restitution Decree mean?

Following the announcement by Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of a Decree allowing non-Muslim community foundations to apply to regain or receive compensation for property the state confiscated from them, Regulations to implement this were published on 1 October. But what does the Decree actually mean? The Decree is best seen as a further step in the process of trying to solve the property problems of non-Muslim community foundations. Yet Forum 18 News Service notes that its scope is narrow, excluding some important categories of confscated property. The Decree relates only to non-Muslim community foundations and does not address property loss of for example, Muslim and Catholic religious communities. Among other deficiencies, the state body that was mainly responsible for confiscations – the Directorate-General of Foundations – has been given control of restitution as well as being given oversight of any compensation to be paid. The absence of an independent valuation and review process to judge compensation increases the possibility that fair compensation may not be paid.

23 August 2011

TURKEY: Changes in school religious education fail to resolve fundamental problems

When children begin school on 19 September, they should have new official textbooks for the compulsory Religious Culture and Knowledge of Ethics course, for which exemption is highly limited. For the first time the books are due to include teaching not just of Sunni Islam but of Alevi and Caferi traditions, both widely shared movements within Islam in Turkey, Forum 18 News Service notes. This year also saw a slight easing to allow exemption of Jehovah's Witness children in families who have left the religious section of their official records blank. Yet such changes fail to tackle the fundamental religious freedom problems over the course: the subject remains compulsory, the function of the course – whether it is about religions or the narrow teaching of one faith only (Islam) - is not clarified, exemptions remain limited and require parents to declare their religious or philosophical views, and there is a risk that exempted children suffer bullying from other children and lowered grades from teachers in other subjects. To ensure respect for freedom of religion and belief for all in education, Turkey should consider approaching the matter in a holistic manner.

27 June 2011

TURKEY: Can a new Constitution solve religious freedom problems?

Following the AKP's general election victory, political attention in Turkey has turned to the long-awaited new Constitution, Forum 18 News Service notes. It appears that a consensus may exist among Turkey's liberals, leading civil society organisations, religious minorities, legal academics, and the main opposition party, the CHP, that the new Constitution should uphold the right to freedom of religion or belief. Many would not object to this as an ideal, but attention to the detail of the proposals is essential. The AKP's past record would suggest that any predictions of its response should be cautious. Indeed, it is unclear what the AKP itself would propose. It is vital that the new Constitution enshrines full guarantees of freedom of religion or belief for all, fully in line with Turkey's international human rights obligations. But on its own - without good laws, regulations and state actions - a Constitution can only have a limited impact in generating practical change in the daily lives of people belonging to minority religious and belief communities.

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