EU Commission Turkey 2012 Progress Report Freedom of Religion or Belief (Working Document) 10.10.2012
Concerning freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of worship continues to be generally respected. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew celebrated in August, for the third time after almost nine decades, the Divine Liturgy of the Dormition of Theotokos at the Sumela Monastery in the Black Sea province of Trabzon. In September the third religious service since 1915 was held at the Armenian Holy Cross Church on the Akhdamar island in lake Van. A number of crypto-Armenians have started to use their original names and religion. Police protection has been provided to a number of church leaders and several churches receive police protection during services. According to the Turkish authorities the Ecumenical Patriarch is free to use the title ‘Ecumenical’. However, the Patriarchate has received no indication from the authorities to this effect and still uses the title ‘Fener Rum Patrikhanesi’ in its letterhead in Turkish.
As regards conscientious objection, some progress was made on addressing repeated prosecution and conviction, and towards introducing a civilian alternative to military service under certain circumstances. Military courts started to issue rulings in line with judgments of the European Court of Human Rights.
A court of first instance in Ankara rejected a request to ban an association which helped build cem houses, Alevi places of worship. However, this decision was reversed in June by the Court of Cassation. The case has been brought to justice by the Ministry of the Interior. New religious education textbooks containing information on the Alevi faith have been prepared by the Ministry of National Education for the academic year 2012-2013.
Implementation of the August 2011 decree law and the October Regulation amending the February 2008 Law on Foundations continued. (See section on property rights).
However, the 2007 Zengin v. Turkey ECtHR judgment on religious culture and ethics classes, which remain compulsory in primary and secondary schools, has yet to be implemented. Children who did not attend were subject, in several instances, to discrimination. No alternatives were provided for students exempted from these classes.
Non-Muslim communities — as organised structures of religious groups — continued to face problems due to their lack of legal personality, with adverse effects on property rights, access to justice, the ability to obtain work, residence permits for foreign clergy and fundraising. The relevant 2010 Council of Europe Venice Commission recommendations have yet to be implemented.
Restrictions on the training of clergy remain. Neither the Turkish legislation nor the public education system provide for private higher religious education for individual communities. Despite announcements by the authorities, the Halki (Heybeliada) Greek Orthodox seminary remained closed. The Armenian Patriarchate’s proposal to open a university department for the Armenian language and clergy remained pending for a fifth year. The Syriac Orthodox community can provide only informal training outside any officially established schools.
As regards participation in religious elections, in contradiction with European standards Turkish and foreign nationals are not treated equally in terms of their ability to exercise their right to freedom of religion by participating in the life of organised religious communities.
Personal documents such as identity cards include information on religion, leading to some discriminatory practices or harassment by local officials of persons who converted from Islam to another religion and thereafter sought to amend their ID cards. The 2010 ECtHR ruling that indication of religious affiliation on identity cards is in breach of the Convention has yet to be implemented.
Concrete follow-up of the opening made in 2009 to the Alevis is lacking. Cem houses were not officially recognised and Alevis experienced difficulties in establishing new places of worship. Alevis were concerned by the marking of many houses of Alevi citizens in a number of provinces and by incidents against them. Complaints were submitted to the prosecutors’ offices by Alevi associations; judicial and administrative investigations are continuing. A demand to open a cem house in the parliament was rejected on the grounds that Alevi MPs could go to the mosque. Several commemoration ceremonies by Alevis were prevented by police, some through the use of force as was a demonstration against the closure of the Madimak court case. Some Alevis encountered job discrimination in the civil service.
Non-Muslim religious communities reported frequent discrimination, administrative uncertainty and numerous obstacles to establishing or continuing to use their places of worship. Implementation of zoning legislation by local authorities was inconsistent, resulting in arbitrary refusals to issue construction and renovation permits for places of worship. In November, the DG for Foundations declared the Hagia Sophia Museum in Iznik a mosque.
Especially in south-eastern provinces, renewal of foreign clergy permits was denied, without adequate explanation and in an inconsistent manner. Clear criteria for refusals to renew residence and/or work permits need to be established.
Alevis and non-Muslim religious communities have to pay electricity and water bills, whereas the State budget covers such expenses for mosques.
Non-Muslim religious communities reported several instances of hate crimes. Anti-Semitism and hate speech in the media, including in TV series and films, has not been punished. There is a culture of intolerance of minorities. The court case concerning the killing of three Protestants in Malatya in April 2007 continued; allegations of links to the Ergenekon organisation are being reviewed by the court following arrests in 2011. No clear conclusion has been reached yet regarding the killing of father Santoro, a Catholic priest, in Trabzon in 2006. As regards the killing of bishop Padovese in Iskenderun in 2010, the case is continuing.
Missionaries are widely perceived as a threat to the integrity of the country and to the Muslim religion. A classified report by the MIT (National Intelligence Organisation) on missionary activities in east and south-east Anatolia focusing on citizens of Kurdish origin, using discriminatory language against Christian churches and missionaries, was revealed in the media in November. A Diyanet five-year strategy plan also aims to follow and evaluate missionary activities inside and outside the country.
Implementation of the May 2010 prime ministerial circular instructing all relevant authorities to pay due attention to the problems of non-Muslim Turkish citizens was not always consistent.
ECtHR judgments on Turkey regarding conscientious objectors refusing to serve in the military on religious or other grounds have yet to be implemented. Turkey is the only country of the Council of Europe that does not recognise the right to conscientious objection for conscripts.
Overall, there was limited progress on freedom of thought, conscience and religion. There has been some progress on conscientious objection in terms of application of the case law of the European Court of Human Rights. Dialogue with the non-Muslim religious communities continued. However, people professing faith in minority religions or indeed no faith continued to be discriminated against, and were subject to threats from extremists. A legal framework in line with the ECHR has yet to be established to ensure that all non-Muslim religious communities and the Alevi community can function without undue constraints.
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