Turkey struggling to protect freedom of religion or belief
- Turkey is not a theocratic or confessional state. It is a secular state with significant human rights commitments in the sphere of freedom of religion or belief. However, Turkey is struggling with protecting the right to freedom of religion or belief fully for all, to comply with the principle of state neutrality and to ensure pluralism, Mine Yildrim, Head of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee Freedom of Belief Initiative in Turkey, said at a seminar on religion and state in Turkey arranged by the Norwegian Helsinki arranged on 12 March 2014.
At the seminar, Mrs. Yildirim presented the main findings in a recent report on freedom of religion or belief in Turkey, published by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.
One of the findings in the report is that many aspects of freedom of religion or belief inevitably require state regulation and decisions of public authorities on a daily basis. And where there is a lack of solid commitment to state neutrality and pluralism which is an inseperable part of democracy, the protection of freedom of religion or belief will suffer. And as a result human beings will suffer.This is challenge Turkey has to solve.
- Changes are necessary to create a legal framework which will secure effective protection of the right to freedom of religion or belief for all, including believers and non-believers, members of the majority religion as well as smaller religious groups. In addition, and this is the real issue, Turkey needs to bring about a fundamental change of mentality that will embrace these necessary changes. Turkey’s political parties and vibrant civil society, which includes belief groups, must work together to make this change in the context of a new Constitution. Otherwise, discrimination is bound to become more pervasive and deeply entrenched in various aspects of life, Mrs. Yildrim concluded.
The power struggles in Turkey between the AK Party led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the "Cemaat" movement, led by Fettulah Gulen, a Muslim cleric residing in the US, and how this influences on the wider respect for democracy and human rights in the country, was also discussed at the seminar.
The developments and demonstrations in Istanbul and Ankara in connection with the death of the 15 year old demonstrator Berkin Elvan, who died tuesday after lying in coma for 269 days, and the way the Turkish government dealt with the massive demonstrations against the government in the summer of 2013 was also discussed.
- The way the Turkish authorities handled this situation is intolerable. The Turkish government immediatly labelled the millions of demonstrators as terrorists. The violence used against them, resulting in eight deaths, and hundreds injured, must be investigated. The ones responsible must be judged in an independent court. Today the same people are hailed as heroes by the Turkish authorities, said Beate Ekeløve-Slydal of Amnesty International Norway, who particiapted in the panel discussion at the seminar.