The US State Department released its annual International Religious Freedom report in which it hailed Turkish laws and policies that contribute to the generally free practice of religion but said core institutions of the state, including the presidency, armed forces, judiciary and state bureaucracy, have played the role of defending secularism throughout the country’s history. “In some cases elements of the state have opposed activities of the elected government on grounds that they threatened the secular state,” the report suggested.
The report raised concerns over the fact that the long-standing ban on the wearing of headscarves by civil servants in public buildings and by students at universities continues, although some universities and government offices have unofficially allowed students and employees to openly wear headscarves. The report added that women who wear headscarves have been disciplined or have lost their jobs as nurses and teachers in the public sector.
The report also noted that minority religious groups faced difficulties in freedom of worship, registration with the government and the training of their followers and clergy.
“Although religious speech and persuasion was legal, some Muslims, Christians, and Baha’is faced restrictions and occasional harassment for alleged proselytizing or providing religious instruction to children,” it underlined.
The report pointed out societal abuses and discrimination based on religious belief and noted that threats against non-Muslims created an atmosphere of pressure and diminished freedom for some non-Muslim communities.
“Many Christians, Baha’is, and heterodox Muslims faced societal suspicion and mistrust, and some elements of society continued to express anti-Semitic sentiments. In addition, persons wishing to convert from Islam sometimes experienced social harassment and violence from relatives and neighbors,” the report suggested.
The report states that since the government does not recognize conscientious objection to military service, those who oppose military service on religious grounds face charges in civil court and prison time.
According to report, religious minorities face difficulties in opening, maintaining and operating houses of worship and that Eastern Orthodox churches are no exception to this. The report claimed that the government generally did not interfere with their religious activities but that significant restrictions were placed on the administration of the churches.
When it comes to “cem houses” -- the places for religious gatherings of Alevis -- the report underlined that Alevis freely practice their beliefs and build cem houses but said they have no legal status as places of worship and were often referred to as “cultural centers.”
The report also mentioned the Alevi workshops the government initiated to address the problems and concerns of Alevis.
“The government held quarterly Alevi workshops aimed at addressing the concerns of the Alevi population. Some Alevi groups complained that these workshops did not address the needs of all Alevi groups, just those alleged to be close to the government,” the report stated.