The 2019 annual report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has concluded that the Turkish government continues to crack down on the anti-government Gülen Movement, discriminate against the minority Alevi community, and interfere in the affairs of what remains of the country’s historic Armenian and Greek Orthodox populations.
The Commission, or USCIRF, said the authoritarian government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan needs to begin fully endorse the European Court of Human Rights rulings on freedom of religion or belief; ensure the education curriculum remains inclusive of all of Turkey’s religious groups; streamline measures that would permit non-Sunni communities to apply for government funding, and publicly rebuke government officials who make anti-Semitic statements or other derogatory statements about religious communities in Turkey.
The USCIRF is a federal government commission created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 and its commissioners are appointed directly by the US President and the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives.
According to USCIRF’s analysis, the state of human rights and civil liberties in Turkey has become critical in the wake of Erdogan’s response to an alleged failed coup attempt in July 2016.
Tens of thousands of followers of the US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, accused by Ankara of orchestrating the coup, continued to be purged from public service, while also being arbitrarily detained and arrested.
Turkey has also been engaging in or tolerating religious freedom violations that meet at least one of the elements of the “systematic, ongoing, egregious” standard for designation as a “country of particular concern”, according to the USCIRF.
Traditionally, non-Muslim students from the Armenian, Greek, Alevis, and Jewish have been exempted from mandatory state school coursed that focus on Islam. This practice, however, appears to have come to an end as the ruling Islamist AK Party is putting more pressure on the communities to have their primary and secondary students attend the state-mandated Religious Culture and Moral Knowledge course.
For their part, the Alevis, Shiites who are the largest religious minority in Turkey, are “routinely” denied exemption despite a 2014 European Court of Human Rights ruling in that the course should not be compulsory and that students should not be required to disclose their religious identity.
The USCIRF cited a report on hate speech by the Hrant Dink Foundation, a local nongovernmental organisation, that 427 instances of hate speech from January to April 2018 that specifically targeted Jews. News articles and headlines frequently made reference to Jews when referring to the state of Israel and mentioned Jews in negative media coverage related to the state of Turkish-Israeli relations, says the report.
Other Christian minorities had also experienced recent discrimination, according to the report, including Jehovah’s Witnesses who continued to be denied the right to conscientious objection to military service and face prosecution, fines, and imprisonment for the exercise of their beliefs.