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'Space to advocate for minority rights in Turkey is shrinking'

29 April 2016


Abroad: the Turkish President, Tayyip Ĕrdogan (centre), with Turkey's head of Religious Affairs, Mehmet Gormez, and Mr Ĕrdogan's wife, Emine, waves as he arrives to inaugurate the Diyanet Islamic Center in Lanham, Maryland, at the beginning of this month

Abroad: the Turkish President, Tayyip Ĕrdogan (centre), with Turkey's head of Religious Affairs, Mehmet Gormez, and Mr Ĕrdogan's wife, Emine, wa...

A REPORT examining the decline in freedom of expression of religion in Turkey has found increasing levels of discrimination towards those from minority faith groups, and a deteriorating human-rights situation.

The report Turkey: Freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression, by the charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide, says that discrimination was occurring in the education system, where new Islamic subjects were introduced into the curriculum; and in the media, where the government was restricting freedom of expression; and in individual acts of violence against places of worship for other faiths, including churches and synagogues.

In recent weeks, the newspaper Zaman, which had questioned government actions, was shut down by the courts.

“There is shrinking space to advocate for minority rights within Turkey, or to question government actions,” the report states. “An unprecedented crackdown on the media has imposed unwarranted restrictions on freedom of expression, reducing the space for public debate, weakening civil society, and adversely impacting human rights and civil liberties.”

Turkey has become a gateway to Europe for millions of refugees, and a route for Islamic State fighters into and out of Europe.

Its population is 98 per cent Sunni Muslim, although officially it is a secular country. President Erdogan has endorsed a move towards a Sunni Muslim identity for the country.

Over the Easter period, the report says, the Turkish Ministry of the Interior reported that it had received intelligence that Daesh (Islamic State) planned to target churches. Although no such attack has occurred to date, the government used the threat as a means of pressurising churches to install CCTV, and to accept a security presence during services.

The increasing power of the government’s Presidency of Religious Affairs, known as the Diyanet, is also highlighted, along with the negative effects on young people from religious minorities of changes to the education system. They often have no religion reflected on their identity cards, and so are not entitled to exemption from the Religion, Culture, and Ethics classes that focus on the teachings of Islam.

The report calls on the EU and the United States to put pressure on the Turkish government to lift restrictions on minority religious communities, and to clamp down on religious discrimination in all forms.

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