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17 March 2010

TURKEY: Conscientious objection a test of Turkish religious freedom

Turkish non-recognition of the right to conscientious objection to military service contributes to conscientious objectors being in an unending cycle of prosecution - trial - punishment, Güzide Ceyhan notes in a commentary for Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org. The case of Muslim objector Enver Aydemir demonstrates this. He objects to conscription because of the military's "antagonistic feelings towards my beliefs". The experience of his mother and sister, who were not allowed to visit him in custody wearing veils, has, he thinks demonstrated this. Similarly trapped in the prosecution – trial – punishment cycle are Jehovah's Witness and secular conscientious objectors. The refusal of the European Court of Human Rights to address the religious freedom aspects of the Ülke case ignored the prosecution – trial – punishment cycle's coercion of a person to change their beliefs. Sadly, it appears that conscientious objection is – like non-recognition of the independent legal existence of religious communities – another example of Turkey's reluctance to recognise freedom of religion or belief for everyone.

27 November 2009

TURKEY: Religious freedom survey, November 2009

Ahead of the UN Human Rights Council May 2010 Universal Periodic Review of Turkey, Forum 18 News Service has found that the country continues to see serious violations of international human rights standards on freedom of religion or belief. A long-standing crucially important issue, with many implications, is that Turkey has not legally recognised religious communities in their own right as independent communities with full legal status - such as the right to own places of worship and the legal protection religious communities normally have in states under the rule of law. Additionally, the most dangerous threat to individuals exercising freedom of religion or belief has been a series of violent attacks and murders on those perceived as threats; in recent years the victims have been Christians. Turkish citizens have argued to Forum 18 that the protection of the right of all to freedom of religion or belief, as laid down in the international human rights standards which Turkey is party to, should be the standard used by the authorities in all affected fields. They also argue that the authorities act against the intolerance fuelling violent attacks and murders.

27 October 2009

TURKEY: No progress on religious property in 2009

Turkish religious communities as diverse as the Alevi Muslims, Catholics, the Greek Orthodox, Protestants, and the Syriac Orthodox Church have seen no significant progress in 2009 in resolving long-standing property problems, Otmar Oehring of the German Catholic charity Missio http://www.missio-aachen.de/menschen-kulturen/themen/menschenrechte notes in a commentary for Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org. Hopes were high, following meetings with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US President Barack Obama's address to the Turkish Parliament, that some progress on this aspect of freedom of religion and belief would be made. But there has been, for example, no progress on recognising Alevi Muslim cem houses and continuing legal cases against the Mor Gabriel Syriac Orthodox Monastery, while two recent victories in the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) have not led to the recovery of confiscated property. Dr Oehring observes that the ECtHR appears to be the only realistic hope of resolving individual property cases – provided its judgments are implemented.

22 October 2009

TURKEY: Hopes for 2009 disappointed

Hopes for improvements in the rights of religious communities in Turkey in 2009 have once more come to nothing, notes Otmar Oehring of the German Catholic charity Missio http://www.missio-aachen.de/menschen-kulturen/themen/menschenrechte in a commentary for Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org. Alevi Muslims broke off formal talks with the government over denial of their rights. A high-profile lunch with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in August 2009, attended by five religious minority leaders, including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, was followed by a visit to two Greek Orthodox sites. But no concrete improvements ensued. Intolerance promoted by Turkey's mainstream media has markedly reduced, but local and ultranationalist newspapers and websites still promote such intolerance. No verdict was reached in 2009 in the long-running trial over the 2007 murder of three Protestants in Malatya, or over the long-running attempts to prosecute two Protestants accused of "defaming Islam". Dr Oehring argues for a fundamental change in the attitudes of both society and the government.

21 October 2008

TURKEY: Turkish nationalism, Ergenekon, and denial of religious freedom

A trial has begun in Turkey of influential people alleged to be part of an ultra-nationalist group, Ergenekon. Otmar Oehring of the German Catholic charity Missio http://www.missio-aachen.de/menschen-kulturen/themen/menschenrechte notes, in a commentary for Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org, that opposition to religious freedom is widespread. Ergenekon members are alleged to have maintained deathlists of people, including Christians with a missionary background. The Malatya murder trial is revealing plausible links between Ergenekon, the "deep state" and the murders. But local officials – who are almost certainly not in an Ergenekon-type group – are also hostile to religious freedom. The Ergenekon case is part of a power-struggle between the "deep state" and the AKP government, but it is unclear whether the current trials will advance freedom of religion and belief. Given the threats to the day-to-day security and religious freedom of non-nationalist Turks, whether the government effectively addresses the roots of these threats will be crucial.

15 April 2008

TURKEY: One year after Malatya murders, time to address the causes

Turkey's Protestants are this week commemorating the first anniversary of the murders of three Protestants - Necati Aydin, Tillman Geske and Ugur Yüksel – in Malatya. Güzide Ceyhan, a Turkish Protestant, in a personal commentary for Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org, notes that Turkey's Alliance of Protestant Churches described 2007 as a "dark year" for their community. She says little has changed to give greater protection for the religious freedom of small religious communities, with some hiring private security companies or locking their doors during worship services. Ceyhan argues that dialogue with all religious communities and non-believers must begin so that the State's claim of being "equally close to all religions" becomes a reality; long-term educational efforts must be initiated to foster pluralism and the equality of all citizens; and the state must urgently take steps to remove imminent threats of attacks on smaller communities, as well as punish those who have committed attacks. If Turkey does not do this, she argues, "we will not have started to genuinely address the causes of the three murders."

13 March 2008

TURKEY: What difference does the latest Foundations Law make?

Turkey has passed the long-promised new Foundations Law. However, it does not allow Muslim or non-Muslim religious communities to legally exist as themselves, Otmar Oehring of the German Catholic charity Missio http://www.missio-aachen.de/menschen-kulturen/themen/menschenrechte notes in a commentary for Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org. Bizarrely, religious communities are therefore not themselves allowed to own their own places of worship. For most non-Muslim communities, these are owned by community foundations. This leads to serious problems. For example, only the state can legally make even basic building repairs. As Dilek Kurban of the respected Turkish TESEV Foundation noted, the Law is "incompatible with the principle of freedom of association, which is guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights, the Constitution and the [1923] Treaty of Lausanne". Dr Oehring argues that the way to guarantee freedom of thought, conscience and belief is to make the European Convention on Human Rights' commitments a concrete reality in Turkey.

29 November 2007

TURKEY: What causes intolerance and violence?

The trial in Malatya of those accused of murdering three Protestants has drawn attention again to the question of what causes such intolerance and violence. Güzide Ceyhan, a Turkish Protestant, in a personal commentary for Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org, identifies three trends behind the murders: disinformation by public figures and the mass media; the rise of Turkish nationalism; and the marginalisation of smaller groups from Turkish society. All three trends feed off each other, and all of Turkey's smaller religious communities – those within Islam and Christianity, as well as Baha'is and Jehovah's Witnesses - are affected by them in various ways. Many Turkish people – of all religions and none - are committed to furthering democracy and human rights, while civil society is growing stronger. But for the fundamental right of all Turkish citizens to freedom of thought, conscience and belief to be truly protected, a human rights-based approach is indispensable.

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