Thursday, May 05, 2011

The Diyanet – the elephant in Turkey's religious freedom room?

The Diyanet, or Presidency of Religious Affairs, is a state institution reporting to the Prime Minster's Office and exerts a very large influence on the extent to which freedom of religion or belief can be enjoyed in Turkey, Forum 18 News Service notes. Massive state financial and institutional support of the Diyanet along with its activities - including its biases against Muslim and non-Muslim beliefs it dislikes - make it difficult for people inside and outside the Diyanet's structures to exercise freedom of religion or belief. This has been reinforced by the latest law governing the Diyanet, which increases its influence without addressing its current incompatibility with Turkey's human rights obligations. For a political party to propose removing the Diyanet from the state's structures would render that party liable to be closed down under Turkish law. Despite the need for change in the Diyanet-state relationship, civil society proposals for change have been described by the government as "unjust" and "too assertive for such a sensitive issue".


Sunday, May 01, 2011

Turkey on religious freedom watch list for 3rd year in a row

Turkey remains on a US panel’s watch list of 11 countries for the third year in a row for its violations of religious freedom, according to the annual country report released by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

“Turkey was first placed on the USCIRF watch list in 2009, and the commission notes with concern that conditions have deteriorated further since then, underscoring the need for continued vigilance in monitoring,” the report states. According to the report, the Turkish government continues to impose serious limitations on freedom of religion or belief, thereby threatening the continued vitality and survival of minority religious communities in Turkey. The USCIRF report recognizes that Turkey has a democratic government and an energetic civil society and media, and that the country’s Constitution protects the freedom of belief and worship as well as the private dissemination of religious ideas, but it also criticizes the Turkish government’s formal and longstanding efforts to control religion by imposing suffocating regulations by denying full legal status to religious institutions, resulting in serious violations of religious freedom.

Moreover, according to the said report, the government in Turkey has failed to take decisive action to correct the climate of impunity against religious minorities and to make the necessary institutional reforms to reverse these conditions.

“Instead, Turkey continues to intervene in the internal governance and education of religious communities and to confiscate places of worship,” the commission states. The alleged involvement of state and military officials in the Ergenekon conspiracy, which includes alleged plans to assassinate minority religious leaders and to bomb mosques, is also of serious concern, according to the USCIRF report. It also criticizes the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) for the alleged use of preventive arrests to repress critics.

The report says it is concerning that there is a rise in anti-Semitism in Turkish society and media. “Due to these concerns, and others set forth in the related chapter, USCIRF continues to place Turkey on its watch list in 2011,” the report notes.