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Turkey named as one of world’s worst religious freedom violators

Country/Region: Turkey

Turkey has been named as one of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom, along with countries such as Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.

It was listed in the US Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) 2012 annual report as a “country of particular concern” (CPC) for “systematic and egregious limitations” of religious freedom. Other nations recommended to the Secretary of State for CPC designation were Burma, China, Egypt, Eritrea, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

Yeni-Camii-Istanbul_4X3.jpg
Turkey is overwhelmingly Muslim
CC BY-NC 2.0 / Vince Millett

The treatment of its Christian minority, as well as of other non-Muslim religious groups, put Turkey on the list. The USCIRF’s report said that restrictions on non-Muslim communities, such as limiting their right to train clergy and own places of worship, “have led to their decline, and in some cases, their virtual disappearance”.

It quoted the Association of Protestant Churches’ Committee for Religious Freedom and Legal Affairs in İzmir, which in early 2012 reported an increased number of attacks, ranging from harassment and vandalism to death threats, against Protestant churches and individuals in 2011 compared to 2010.

The report also covered conditions in northern Cyprus, which is under Turkish control. Approximately 500 monasteries, churches, and cemeteries there have been purposely desecrated or are in ruins due to Turkish and Turkish Cypriot authorities’ negligence, or are being used for non-religious purposes such as storage or community halls.

Turkey, which was on the USCIRF’s Watch List from 2009 to 2011, is bidding to become a full member of the European Union; its recommendation as a CPC will surely not advance this agenda. 

Regarding Egypt, the USCIRF said that the transitional government has failed to protect religious minorities, especially Christians, from violent attacks.

And it said that in Iran, Christians, Baha’is and Sufi Muslims have been subjected to intensified attacks, harassment, detention, and imprisonment.

Ones to watch

The USCIRF’s “Watch List” denotes countries that, while not severe enough to be recommended as CPCs, require close monitoring because of religious freedom violations that their governments have engaged in or tolerated. On the 2012 list are Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Laos, Russia, Somalia, and Venezuela.

The 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) requires that the United States designate annually as CPCs countries whose governments have engaged in or tolerated systematic and egregious violations of religious freedom. The USCIRF is a federal government commission that monitors religious freedom throughout the world and makes recommendations to the Secretary of State.  

Its future was seriously threatened last year when its reauthorisation was held up in the Senate. But just three days before the commission would have been forced to close, the Senate passed legislation allowing it to continue. The USCIRF has to operate, however, with an annual budget reduced from US$4m to US$3m and the number of commissioners reduced from nine to five.

Its 2012 report, which covers the period between 1 April 2011 and 29 February 2012, was produced early this year before the new restrictions come into force.

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