Turkish gov’t slams US over its annual report on religious freedom

The Turkish government slammed a US report on international religious freedom on Wednesday, describing its section on Turkey as “baseless claims.”

The US State Department has highlighted violations of religious freedom committed by the Turkish government in its annual International Religious Freedom Report for 2017, released on Tuesday.

In response to a question on the chapter on Turkey in the report, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said in a statement that Turkey has looked at the report, noting that the report was prepared in line with the US’s “own perspective.”

“Most parts of the text in connection with Turkey constitute a repetition of certain baseless claims already raised in previous years,” the statement said.

“The citation of FETÖ/PDY as a terrorist organization only in reference to our government and the deficient allusion to the terrorist coup attempt of July 15th, 2016 and the damage inflicted on our country and our nation by the said terrorist organization are grave and serious flaws.”

“FETÖ” is a derogatory term coined by ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to refer to the Gülen movement.

“As we have reiterated on various occasions, it is certain that in Turkey, no individual is subjected to any legal or administrative action on grounds such as religion or ethnic origin,” Aksoy said in the statement.

The statement said the report also includes “claims concerning certain demands of our Assyrian citizens related to immovable property issues,” including cemeteries and real estate.

A March 2018 law “legally enabled the transfer of 56 pieces of immovable property from the General Directorate of Foundations to Assyrian foundations”, the statement said. “With this step, Turkey has affirmed once again its constructive and open-minded attitude regarding freedom of worship and religion,” it alleged.

The US’s annual report said that since a July 2016 coup attempt, the government has dismissed or suspended from state institutions in excess of 100,000 government officials, including more than 4,000 staff members of the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), for alleged links to the Gülen movement, which the government accuses of orchestrating the failed coup.

Based on data provided by the Ministry of the Interior, the report stated that authorities had arrested more than 50,000 individuals since the coup attempt on alleged terror-related grounds.

The report said the Turkish government also continued to detain some foreign citizens for what it stated were potential links to the Gülen movement. In August an İzmir judge added related charges to the original December 2016 indictment of an American Protestant pastor detained since October 2016.

According to the report the Turkish government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan continued to limit the rights of non-Muslim minorities, especially those it did not recognize as covered under the 1923 Lausanne Treaty.

It also continued to treat Alevi Islam as a heterodox Muslim “sect” and to refuse to recognize Alevi houses of worship. The government in addition closed two Shia Jaferi television stations based on allegations of spreading “terrorist propaganda.”

Alevis have expressed concern about security and said the government had failed to meet their demands for religious reforms.

In July the Ministry of Education implemented an extensive revision of the school curriculum, which secular individuals and other citizens said increased the Sunni Muslim content in the textbooks and undermined the country’s secular education system.

Religious minorities said they continued to experience difficulties obtaining exemptions from mandatory religion classes in public schools, operating or opening houses of worship and in addressing land and property disputes. The government also restricted minority religious groups’ efforts to train their clergy.

Alevis continued to face anonymous threats of violence. Threats of violence by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other actors against Jews, Protestants and Sunni Muslims also persisted. Anti-Semitic discourse continued, as some pro-government news commentators published stories seeking to associate the 2016 coup plotters with the Jewish community. These commentators also sought to associate the Orthodox ecumenical patriarch with the coup attempt. Unidentified assailants vandalized some Protestant, Orthodox, Catholic and Alevi places of worship, including marking red “X”s on the doors of 13 Alevi homes and attacking a Protestant church in Malatya.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. On December 13, 2017 the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on April 18, 2018 that the Turkish government had jailed 77,081 people between July 15, 2016 and April 11, 2018 over alleged links to the Gülen movement.

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