The US government’s recently published “International Religious Freedom Report 2016” has panned Turkey over religious freedom restrictions.
Prepared by the State Department to the US Congress, the 19th annual report provides a detailed and factual overview of the status of religious freedom in nearly 200 countries.
The report states that “some foreing citizens, including several individuals with ties to Christian groups, faced detention, problems with residency permissions, or denial of entry to the country under the state of emergency powers following the July attempted coup,” citing the case of a Protestant pastor, Andrew Brunson, detained with his wife in Izmir in October. Brunson, charged with “membership in an armed terrorist group”, has been under arrest since last October.
The report asserts that the Turkish government continued to limit the rights of non-Muslim minorities, making reference to the difficulties encountered by religious minorities in opening and operating the places of worship, challenging land and property disputes, training their clergy, obtaining exemptions from mandatory religious classes.
The reopening of the Halki Greek Orthodox Seminary, the problems of Alevi Muslims and non recognition of their places of worship (cemevi) by Diyanet, conscientous objection are also the issues found a place in the report.
The report says that Alevi Muslims, Jews, Protestants and Sunni Muslims faced protests and threats of violence, and their places of worship were vandalized during the year.
The report also takes attention to the continued wave of anti-Semitic discourse, particularly on social media and in the press. The report cites pro-government commentators and high level government officials as evidence for discrimination against non Muslim religious groups.
The report says that throughout the year the US government officials urged their Turkish counterparts to lift the restrictions on religious groups, raised the issue of property restitution ann restoration, discussed the specific cases of religious discrimination, underscored the importance of religious freedom, interfaith tolerance and raised the historical importance of Hagia Sophia as a symbol of peaceful coexistence and meningful dialogue between religions.
Unlike its precedents, the 2016 report makes detailed references to the Turkish government’s crackdown on the Gulen Movement, particularly after July 15 coup attempt.
“The government ascribed responsibility for the coup attempt to self-exiled Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen and his movement (Gulen denied any involvement in the attempted coup), which identifies itself as an Islam-inspired civic, cultural and education movement. In the three months following the coup attempt, police detained more than 75.000 individuals and formally arrested more than 41.000, many for alleged ties to the Gulen movement. The government suspended over 3600 alleged Gulenists from Diyanet – Directorate for Religious Affairs” the report said.