24 September 2010
Women are banned from studying theology in Turkmenistan - including Islamic theology, the only permitted religious university subject – an official has told Forum 18 News Service. "Only men are accepted for this course," the State University official – who did not give her name or role – told Forum 18. "Women can't study there." She declined to say why this discrimination against women has been imposed. This is the only university-level institution in Turkmenistan where the government allows any religious faith to be studied, and only Islam is permitted to be studied. It is also the only institution where the government allows young men who want to become imams to be trained. Potential imams are not allowed to study abroad, and only a small number of men (some of whom do not wish to become imams) are allowed to academically study any religious topic. Only the Russian Orthodox Church is permitted to send male and female students abroad for their studies, and the possibilities for all other formal and informal (such as Sunday School) religious education and instruction are extremely severely restricted.
11 August 2010
TURKEY: Why state interference in the election of Chief Rabbi, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Patriarchs?
Turkey continues to interfere in the choices made by the Jewish, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic communities of who should lead them, Forum 18 News Service notes. The government makes no attempt to hide this interference, which raises serious questions in relation to its international human rights commitments to allow religious communities to select the leaders of their choice. It also interferes in the appointment of the leadership of the Diyanet (Presidency of Religious Affairs) and running of the Muslim community, the country's largest religious community. Any resolution in line with Turkey's international human rights obligations would also have to entail granting legal status to all existing religious communities. Communities of all Turkey's faiths should be free to structure themselves as they choose. But at present no religious community in Turkey has independent legal status in its own right – which means for example that no religious community can own property. So the Jewish, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic leaders are chosen with government permission as leaders of religious communities which do not exist in law and whose personal positions are not recognised in law.
22 April 2010
It was expected that Turkey's trial of those accused of murdering three Malatya Protestants would end last week, Güzide Ceyhan notes in a commentary for Forum 18. But an indictment related to Operation Cage – an alleged Navy plan targeting Turkey's non-Muslim communities - has been added to the case file but not yet merged with the case. The murders of journalist Hrant Dink, Catholic priest Fr Andrea Santoro and the three Malatya Protestants - Necati Aydin, Tillman Geske and Ugur Yüksel - are expressly identified as helping Cage realise its purposes. This Operation aimed to destabilise the AKP government by both targeting non-Muslims and encouraging protests about their targeting. But what have the criminal trials – very important as they are - really revealed? The tragic irony is that even if Cage is fictitious, freedom of religion or belief for all in Turkey is both limited and under threat. The government has focused on the issues which can most damage the AKP, i.e. possibly Ergenekon-related violent attacks on non-Muslim individuals. But Turkey's many other serious challenges to freedom of religion or belief have not been resolved. The government needs to take action now on those challenges, whether or not they feature in trial proceedings.
17 March 2010
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. 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.
26 February 2010
Just weeks after Russia's Supreme Court outlawed their literature as extremist, Jehovah's Witnesses are encountering at least ten times the level of state harassment across the country as before the ban, their press secretary has estimated to Forum 18 News Service. Since 8 December, they have catalogued over 30 incidents, including searches, threats and brief detentions. So alarmed are the Jehovah's Witnesses by the growing similarity of their predicament with their repression during the Soviet period that their entire 160,000-strong Russian membership will today (26 February) begin distributing 12 million copies of "Is History Repeating Itself?", a leaflet refuting the religious extremism allegations against them. In December, Russia's Human Rights Ombudsman informed President Dmitry Medvedev of an upsurge in citizens' complaints about religious freedom violations, but his only response was to check if they came from "non-traditional" confessions. Mikhail Odintsov of the Ombudsman's Office declined to answer Forum 18's questions. Readers of the late Turkish Muslim theologian Said Nursi – whose works are also banned - similarly note increased state scrutiny, with raids by the police and FSB security service on dozens of homes in the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan and Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk in the past two months.
27 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.
19 November 2009
The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (ECtHR) has recently made a very dangerous judgement for freedom of religion or belief in the Bayatyan v. Armenia case which puts it out of step with the international standards on conscientious objection to military service and with the Council of Europe's own human rights agenda, notes Derek Brett of Conscience and Peace Tax International http://www.cpti.ws in a commentary for Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org. The Court, apparently unaware of the recent parallel jurisprudence under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, found no violation of the freedom of thought, conscience and religion in the imprisonment of a Jehovah's Witness for his refusal on grounds of conscientious objection to perform military service, or the subsequent increase in the sentence, which had been partly justified by his reasons for refusal. Brett argues that it is vital that the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR agrees to hear the appeal in the Bayatyan case, as it alone can overturn the precedent which this will otherwise set for future ECtHR cases.
27 October 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 notes in a commentary for Forum 18. 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
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 in a commentary for Forum 18. 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
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 notes, in a commentary for Forum 18, 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.