Turkey

Last Updated 5 January 2021

With its historical metropolis, Istanbul, being the only city in the world said to be straddling Asia and Europe, Turkey has long been pulled ideologically in divergent directions. Turkey counts a population of 82 million people, 99% of whom are nominally Muslim (predominantly Sunni, with a substantial minority of Alevi). Around 5% self-define as atheists or non-believers.1https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/turkey/

In recent years, the famous secularism of Atatürk has been under tremendous pressure from the Islamist-leaning government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has conducted a sustained assault on Turkey’s long-held secularist principles, freedom of expression and social liberties generally in recent years. Besides a continuous push for the Islamization of society, the government’s response to a failed coup attempt in 20162https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/7/15/turkeys-failed-coup-attempt-all-you-need-to-know has been widely condemned domestically and abroad as a gross overreaction, spiraling into a “purge” of thousands of officials and a crackdown on civil society.

There are widespread allegations of the use of torture against political prisoners.3https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/turkey

The country is a member state of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

 
Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

The current Constitution4https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Turkey_2017.pdf?lang=en protects freedom of religion or belief, guaranteeing equal protection before the law, irrespective of “philosophical belief, religion and sect”. It also lists secularism as one of the fundamental characteristics of the Republic. However, the principles of secularism have been under sustained assault under the ruling AKP and, in particular, under the presidency of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Government-driven Islamization

Since the founding of the Republic in 1923, Turkey has experienced deep tensions over the issue of religious freedom. For many years, Muslim women who wore headscarves were banned from attending universities and schools, working for the civil service, and even entering state buildings.5https://www.refworld.org/docid/4885a91a8.html The number of non-Muslims declined due to state pressure, punitive taxation, seizing of their properties, and widespread governmental and societal hostilities, which included violent attacks and murder.6Içduygu, Ahmet, Toktas, Şule and Soner, B. Ali (2007) ‘The politics of population in a nation-building process: emigration of non-Muslims from Turkey’, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 31:2, 358 – 389

In 2002, Turkey entered a new phase with the election of the AKP. On the one hand, “the AKP government has lifted limits on women with headscarves, enabled non-Muslims to open associations, established a process to return seized properties to non-Muslim foundations, allowed new churches to open, and supported the restoration of multiple Jewish and Christian religious and cultural heritage sites”.7uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/TurkeyTextbookReport.pdf8

On the other hand, there are wider concerns about Erdoğan’s Islamization of the political landscape, the rollback of secular protections, and his attempts to monopolize power.

From 2012 and onward, the AKP government began attracting wide criticism for its statements and policies on a broad spectrum of political, and religious matters.9https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/06/turkey-education-erdogan-devout-generation-plan.html; http://www.turkeyanalyst.org/publications/turkey-analyst-articles/item/463-the-rise-of-diyanet-the-politicization-of-turkey%E2%80%99s-directorate-of-religious-affairs.html Non-religious Turks, and those not from classically understood Sunni Muslim traditions, report feeling that they are being pressured to adopt or adhere to a particular political ideology, rooted in the ‘Hanafi’ school of Sunni Islam.

There are several constitutional provisions and other laws and state practices that infringe on freedom of religion or belief and go against the principle of secularism.

For instance, the state allocates substantial funds to provide religious services exclusively for Sunni Muslims, used to pay the salaries of imams, construct mosques and oversee pilgrimage.10https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/turkey/

Not only does the Diyanet (a Sunni Muslim institution) officially adopts the president’s policy of raising a “pious generation”;11https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/18/world/europe/erdogan-turkey-election-religious-schools.html it also issues vitriolic statements against atheist and freethinkers,12https://www.duvarenglish.com/politics/2020/11/10/turkeys-atheism-association-files-criminal-complaint-against-diyanet-head thereby jeopardizing freedom of belief.

Furthermore, in a world-wide contested move, the former Orthodox cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul was turned back into a mosque in 2020 after being a museum since 1934.13https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-53506445

With all these practices, the state violated the principle of secularism.14http://www.ateizmdernegi.org.tr/blog/2020/05/08/selalar-yoluyla-din-dayatmasi-ve-psikolojik-taciz/

Deterioration of the rule of law

In 2017, the AKP and its nationalist ally, the Nationalist Movement Party, adopted amendments to the Constitution that considerably increased the President’s power to the detriment of the Parliament.15https://blog-iacl-aidc.org/test-3/2018/5/26/analysis-the-2017-constitutional-reforms-in-turkey-removal-of-parliamentarism-or-democracy The amendments, which were approved by a narrow majority in a national referendum, have been regarded as yet another slip into authoritarianism.16https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-38883556

This move followed a failed coup that took place on 15 July 2016 and the ensuing crackdown. The crackdown, directed by President Erdoğan,  led to the arrest of more than 36,000 people, including members of opposition parties, and the dismissal of some 100,000 (mainly from state jobs).17https://www.economist.com/europe/2016/11/10/turkey-locks-up-dissidents?frsc=dg%7Cc; https://cpj.org/2016/11/turkey-crackdown-chronicle-week-of-november-13/ By March 2019, these figures had risen to almost 100,000 people arrested and more than 150,300 dismissed.18https://turkeypurge.com/

The Turkish government and the COVID-19 pandemic

During a Friday sermon in April 2020, the head of the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanent) insinuated that the coronavirus spread because of homosexuality and extramarital affairs. The Ankara Bar Association, considering this statement as being tantamount to hate speech, filed a criminal complaint to the attorney office. President Erdoğan, however, supported the head of Diyanent accusing his critics of “attacking the state and Islam”.19https://www.dw.com/tr/diyanetin-eşcinsellikle-ilgili-sözlerine-beştepeden-destek/a-53255583; https://www.ekathimerini.com/252534/opinion/ekathimerini/comment/turkish-government-scapegoats-lgbti-community-for-covid-19-pandemic

Education and children’s rights

Religion classes at primary and secondary schools are compulsory. Only Christian and Jews are allowed to be exempted from religion classes. 20https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/turkey/ Article 42 of the Constitution requires this education to be conducted under the “supervision and control of the state”. While these classes cover basic information about other religions, they are predominantly about the theory and practice of Sunni Hanafi Islam.21http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/atheists-the-ultimate-other-in-turkey/

Compulsory Religious Education

There have been reports indicating that the religion class and its required textbooks were problematic: the textbooks were written with a Muslim worldview and interpretation of other religions, and included generalizations and derogatory statements about other religions or belief stances.22https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/TurkeyTextbookReport.pdf Even more seriously, according to a 2014 report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), “atheism is treated alongside a discussion of the perceived risk of Satanism, making a dangerous suggestion about people who hold no religious beliefs”.23uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/TurkeyTextbookReport.pdf

After the July 2016 coup attempt, the Ministry of National Education made a more comprehensive change in the school curriculum, intensifying Sunni Muslim content in the textbooks, increasing the number of obligatory and elective religion courses, thereby damaging the country’s secular education system far more.24https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/turkey-erdogan-education/

In June 2017, Turkey also removed the concept of evolution from its school curriculum, an act widely seen as the latest attempt by the government to erode the country’s secular character.25nytimes.com/2017/06/23/world/europe/turkey-evolution-high-school-curriculum.html; https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-41003105 “The last crumbs of secular scientific education have been removed,” said Feray Aytekin Aydogan, the head of Egitim-Sen, a union of secular-minded teachers.

Overall, analysts have noted how President Erdoğan’s government has steadily increased references to Islam in the curriculum and removed some references to the ideas of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Turkey’s secularist founder. It has also increased the number of religious schools, known as ‘imam hatip’ schools, and spoken of a desire to raise “a pious generation” of young Turks.26nytimes.com/2017/06/23/world/europe/turkey-evolution-high-school-curriculum.html

Religious education and the COVID-19 pandemic

During the pandemic, the official TV channel of the Ministry of Education Affairs broadcasted educational programs for the students, during which it was claimed that “atheism is against human nature”.27http://www.ateizmdernegi.org.tr/blog/2020/04/01/uzaktan-dayatilan-din/

 

Family, community and society

Non-believers

The country is predominantly Muslim with only a small minority identifying as atheist. A 2012 Gallup survey found that 73% Turkish people described themselves as being “not a religious person”, in spite of a mere 2% of atheist respondents.28https://sidmennt.is/wp-content/uploads/Gallup-International-um-tr%C3%BA-og-tr%C3%BAleysi-2012.pdf

Atheism seems to have steadily increased since.  According to the pollster KONDA, atheists have tripled in the last 10 years, and the number of non-believers has doubled, reaching among the two categories a total of 5%. This percentage rises among young people under the age of 30.29https://www.dw.com/en/atheism-grows-in-turkey-as-recep-tayyip-erdogan-urges-islam/a-47018029; https://onedio.com/haber/ateist-orani-artti-dindar-orani-azaldi-21-grafikle-konda-nin-son-10-yillik-toplumsal-degisim-raporu-855882 

These figures should be read bearing in mind the increasing social and governmental pressure against non-believers, which means that their actual number could be much higher.

Women

Violations of the rights of women and girls are legitimized for religious reasons, in a country which has “one of the highest rates of child marriage in Europe, with an estimated 15% of girls married before the age of 18 and 2% married before the age of 15”.30https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/child-marriage/turkey/

In 2017, The AKP Government passed a law allowing religious officials to perform civil marriages, a move that women’s rights groups argue is a step towards the weakening of Turkey’s secularism and could further increase the number of child marriages.31aljazeera.com/news/2017/10/turkey-religion-officials-perform-civil-marriages-171019132948431.html

Violence against women has been on the rise, and in November 2015 the Justice Ministry appeared to suggest responding to the rise by downgrading the sentences given to those found guilty of domestic and sexual abuse and violence, effectively reclassifying violence aimed primarily at women as a “petty crime”.32https://www.secularism.org.uk/news/2015/11/fears-for-womens-rights-in-turkey-as-justice-ministry-to-classify-violence-against-women-as-a-petty-crime Attacks on secular women from personal social media accounts include rape threats. The legal processes regarding these crimes are often shelved, and are not reflected in the discourses of politicians and the official media.33Submission to UN Special Rapporteur Dr. Fernand de Varennes on Minority Issues by Ateizm Dernegi (Ateism Association of Turkey) dated 29.06.2020

In a widely reported speech to mark Eid al-Fitr in July 2014, Deputy Prime Minister, Bülent Arinç, said, “Chastity is so important. It’s not just a word, it’s an ornament [for women]… A woman should be chaste. She should know the difference between public and private. She should not laugh in public.”34https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/30/turkish-women-defy-deputy-pm-laughter A social media backlash saw hundreds of women posting photographs of themselves smiling and laughing with the hashtags #direnkahkaha (“resist laughter”) and #direnkadin (“resist woman”). A year later, during an emergency parliamentary debate on military action against Kurdish militants, he told Nursel Aydogan, a pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) member of parliament: “Madam be quiet! You are a woman, be quiet!” She later responded, “I don’t take it personally. It is an insult against all women including their own (ruling party) lawmakers”.35telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/turkey/11771966/Turkish-deputy-PM-embroiled-in-new-sexism-row-after-saying-As-a-woman-be-quiet.html

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Freedom of expression is theoretically protected by the current Constitution, but is not respected in practice. Crackdowns on social media in recent years, including  enforced  blackouts of Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and Wikipedia, have gained attention worldwide.36https://www.article19.org/resources/turkey-alarming-plans-to-further-crackdown-on-social-media/

Sunni Islamic propaganda is carried out in TRT, the official media channel of the state, and neutrality is not taken into account in the selection of programs and guests. The same also applies to pro-government channels that constitute the majority of the media. Intense pressure and censorship is imposed on the few media channels that do not support the government.37 https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/11/12/how-us-can-send-message-erdogan-free-press/; https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/president-erdogan-s-media-mouthpiece-aims-to-woo-the-west; https://www.article19.org/resources/turkey-alarming-plans-to-further-crackdown-on-social-media/

National and religious minorities are often made the target of hate speech in the media.38https://hrantdink.org/attachments/article/2728/Hate-Speech-and-Discriminatory-Discourse-in-Media-2019.pdf

Identifying as ‘atheist’ is especially problematic, prompting public smear campaigns,  insults, threats, and discrimination.

Upon the foundation of the Turkish Atheism Association (Ateizm Derneği) in April 2014, its personnel started to receive death threats.39https://www.voanews.com/world-news/middle-east-dont-use/turkeys-atheists-face-hostilities-death-threats In 2015, an Ankara court blocked for a few months the Association’s website40www.ateizmdernegi.org on grounds of disrupting public order and insulting religious values, as per Article 216.3 of the Penal Code.41http://turkishpolicy.com/article/902/secularism-and-atheism-in-the-turkish-public-sphere; https://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-blocks-website-of-its-first-atheist-association-79163; https://english.alarabiya.net/en/media/digital/2015/03/04/Turkish-court-blocks-atheist-group-s-website

The Association reports that the term ‘atheist’ is used as an insult or equated with Satanism or terrorism, and how the presumption of Islam at birth for most Turkish citizens and discrimination in the workplace act to keep the non-religious from identifying as such.42dw.com/en/uneasy-neighbors-in-turkey-atheism-and-islam/a-18475178; voanews.com/content/turkeys-atheists-face-hostility-death-threats/2720367.html

In 2020, the Association filed two relevant lawsuits prompted by derogatory statements against atheists, including against a teacher who taught his pupils that “[a]theism makes you an ill-minded person. Atheism leads to Satanism. Atheism leads to torturing animals. Atheism leads to commit suicide”,43Ankara Prosecutor’s Office , Document number: 7132347730, 6 June 2020 and a newspaper, Yeni Akit, which published an article alleging that atheists are potential serial killers.44“They can commit serial murders for pleasure”: https://www.yeniakit.com.tr/haber/ateizmin-evreleri-nelerdir-ateistler-herkese-saygili-midir-1060634.htmlhttp://www.ateizmdernegi.org.tr/blog/2020/06/03/yeni-akit-gazetesi-hakkinda-suc-duyurusu/

“Blasphemy” law

Article 216 of the Penal Code outlaws insulting religious belief, with Article 216.3 stating:

“A person who publicly degrades the religious values of a section of the public shall be sentenced to a penalty of imprisonment for a term of six months to one year, where the act is capable of disturbing public peace.”45https://www.legislationline.org/download/id/6453/file/Turkey_CC_2004_am2016_en.pdf#:~:text=(1)%20Any%20person%20who%20is%20employed%20as%20a%20public%20officer,in%20respect%20of%20his%20acts.

Highlighted Cases

In 2020, dissident journalist Enver Aysever was arrested on charges of violating Article 216/3 of the Penal Code after he shared on his personal twitter page a caricature mocking the Muslim clergy for its behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic.46https://sendika.org/2020/03/artist-enver-aysever-detained-in-turkey-for-his-drawing-calling-for-scientific-approach-to-coronavirus-pandemic-580999/ He was later released, but will still have to face trial for insulting religious feelings.47https://www.birgun.net/haber/enver-aysever-e-karikatur-sorusturmasi-292519; http://www.ateizmdernegi.org.tr/blog/2020/03/26/enver-ayseverin-ve-dusunce-ozgurlugunun-yanindayiz

On 23 May 2020, the song “Bella Ciao” resounded from the loudspeakers of some mosques in Izmir, in a provocative campaign that was shared on social media. İzmir Chief Public Prosecutor announced an investigation not only on the act of sabotage, but also on those who shared the video, for the crime of ‘publicly denigrating religious values’ under Article 216/3 Penal Code.48https://bianet.org/english/law/224592-prosecutors-open-investigation-after-izmir-mosques-blare-bella-ciao-song

As a result, Banu Özdemir – former Izmir provincial vice president of the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) – was taken into custody due to her sharing the story.49https://www.duvarenglish.com/domestic/2020/05/25/prosecutors-change-probe-rules-to-arrest-former-chp-politician-for-bella-ciao-posts

In 2014, Armenian writer and atheist Sevan Nişanyan was given a lengthy prison sentence, ostensibly for building regulation violations, but the prosecution was widely regarded as being linked to his writings on national identity, the Armenian genocide, and, in particular, his criticism of Islam. In 2017 he fled to Greece.50https://www.lalibre.be/international/sevan-nisanyan-a-fui-la-turquie-je-crois-que-le-gouvernement-est-heureux-de-me-voir-partir-59772416cd70d65d24fa542c

In May 2014, Sedat Kapanoğlu, founder of one of Turkey’s most popular online forums, Ekşi Sözlük (Sour Dictionary) was given a 10-month suspended sentence for blasphemy. A police complaint alleging insults to the Prophet Muhammad were made on a discussion thread at the forum. Some 40 forum members were detained by police and charged with insulting religion. The court ruled that Kapanoğlu had committed the crime of “insulting the religious values shared by a group of society”. The 10-month sentence was suspended, based on the time elapsed since the crime was committed and the means used for it.

The court also gave suspect Özgür Kuru seven months and 15 days in jail on the same charges, but also suspended the sentence. The court acquitted a third suspect, Altuğ Şahin, on the grounds that it could not be detected whether he actually committed the crime of “insulting religious beliefs.”.51hurriyetdailynews.com/court-sentences-founder-of-popular-online-forum-for-blasphemy.aspx?pageID=238&nID=66544&NewsCatID=339

In October 2014, a woman not widely named in media reports was arrested for tweeting a picture of her stilettoed feet standing on a Quran. The woman was arrested after a complaint by the Ankara Mayor, who has reportedly sued as many as 3,000 people for insulting him.52 huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/23/turkey-stilettos-quran-tweet_n_6035198.html

In 2012, Turkish authorities charged Fazıl Say, an atheist and world-renowned classical and jazz pianist, with insulting Islamic values in Twitter messages. The cited message echoed the words of famous 11th-century Persian poet, Omar Khayyam, poking fun at afterlife beliefs. Say denied the charge, but was handed a suspended 10-month jail term on 15 April 2013.53https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/apr/15/turkish-composer-fazil-say-convicted-blasphemhy

In October 2015, the Supreme Court of Appeals overturned his conviction, citing Say’s own freedom of thought and expression.[ref]https://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/top-appeals-court-reverses-blasphemy-decision-against-turkish-pianist-say-90336

In 2008, Islamic creationist writer Adnan Oktar, better known by his pen name Harun Yahya, successfully sued to block the website of evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins due to “defamatory and blasphemous” content.[ref]theguardian.com/world/2008/sep/18/turkey

Testimonies

“It’s getting more and more difficult for a secular minded person to raise children unaffected from religious oppression. Some secular schools in my neighbourhood have been changed to religious curriculum. There is a mandatory “Morale and Religion” class, which teaches basics of Sunni Islam, and I’m afraid my child will be forced to take it. To avoid the class, the school management requires me to declare my religious beliefs. This is against the Constitution, and will make us exposed. Many people don’t bother and that’s how everyone’s signed up to that class. I hear from relatives that their children are compelled to select other “optional” religious courses, because science teachers are not available, but religious teachers always are. Yesterday [4 December 2014], the National Education Council suggested religion class for kindergarten, while protesters were accused of blasphemy. That idea was dismissed for kindergarten, but recommended for the first class in primary school. See the mindset in charge? I am seriously concerned about how I am going to secure my child’s getting a secular education, just as I did myself sixteen years ago. The situation has deteriorated and is much worse than how it was in the 90’s.”
— Levent Topakoglu

“Today I found myself deleting the anti-religion and anti-government posts in my timeline. Because I can be charged with ‘causing imminent threat to public peace’ with my posts of atheist humor, according to Turkish penal law 216/3. It could be elements of criticism to religious fanaticism, or just a piece of poetry from 800 years ago. It doesn’t matter to the judges, thanks to an unnecessarily wide understanding of the law. My post doesn’t need to provoke anyone, nor cause hurt. I can be tried anyway. The same is not applied when the head of government can easily call atheists “terrorists” or condemns atheism to be an unwanted result of ‘bad’ education. In a nation where an alarmingly high percentage of citizens deem atheists the least wanted neighbours, followed by homosexuals, I cannot afford to allow our politicians to promote this unfair, non-democratic, non-secular propaganda against non-Sunni Muslims living in Turkey. Are all citizens not deserving of the same protection and consideration under the law of the country in which they reside?”
— Onur Romano

References

1 https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/turkey/
2 https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/7/15/turkeys-failed-coup-attempt-all-you-need-to-know
3 https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/turkey
4 https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Turkey_2017.pdf?lang=en
5 https://www.refworld.org/docid/4885a91a8.html
6 Içduygu, Ahmet, Toktas, Şule and Soner, B. Ali (2007) ‘The politics of population in a nation-building process: emigration of non-Muslims from Turkey’, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 31:2, 358 – 389
7 uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/TurkeyTextbookReport.pdf[ref]

On the other hand, there are wider concerns about Erdoğan’s Islamization of the political landscape, the rollback of secular protections, and his attempts to monopolize power.

From 2012 and onward, the AKP government began attracting wide criticism for its statements and policies on a broad spectrum of political, and religious matters.[ref]https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/06/turkey-education-erdogan-devout-generation-plan.html; http://www.turkeyanalyst.org/publications/turkey-analyst-articles/item/463-the-rise-of-diyanet-the-politicization-of-turkey%E2%80%99s-directorate-of-religious-affairs.html

8

On the other hand, there are wider concerns about Erdoğan’s Islamization of the political landscape, the rollback of secular protections, and his attempts to monopolize power.

From 2012 and onward, the AKP government began attracting wide criticism for its statements and policies on a broad spectrum of political, and religious matters.[ref]https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/06/turkey-education-erdogan-devout-generation-plan.html; http://www.turkeyanalyst.org/publications/turkey-analyst-articles/item/463-the-rise-of-diyanet-the-politicization-of-turkey%E2%80%99s-directorate-of-religious-affairs.html Non-religious Turks, and those not from classically understood Sunni Muslim traditions, report feeling that they are being pressured to adopt or adhere to a particular political ideology, rooted in the ‘Hanafi’ school of Sunni Islam.

There are several constitutional provisions and other laws and state practices that infringe on freedom of religion or belief and go against the principle of secularism.

For instance, the state allocates substantial funds to provide religious services exclusively for Sunni Muslims, used to pay the salaries of imams, construct mosques and oversee pilgrimage.[ref]https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/turkey/

9 https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/06/turkey-education-erdogan-devout-generation-plan.html; http://www.turkeyanalyst.org/publications/turkey-analyst-articles/item/463-the-rise-of-diyanet-the-politicization-of-turkey%E2%80%99s-directorate-of-religious-affairs.html Non-religious Turks, and those not from classically understood Sunni Muslim traditions, report feeling that they are being pressured to adopt or adhere to a particular political ideology, rooted in the ‘Hanafi’ school of Sunni Islam.

There are several constitutional provisions and other laws and state practices that infringe on freedom of religion or belief and go against the principle of secularism.

For instance, the state allocates substantial funds to provide religious services exclusively for Sunni Muslims, used to pay the salaries of imams, construct mosques and oversee pilgrimage.[ref]https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/turkey/

Not only does the Diyanet (a Sunni Muslim institution) officially adopts the president’s policy of raising a “pious generation”;[ref]https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/18/world/europe/erdogan-turkey-election-religious-schools.html

10 https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/turkey/

Not only does the Diyanet (a Sunni Muslim institution) officially adopts the president’s policy of raising a “pious generation”;[ref]https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/18/world/europe/erdogan-turkey-election-religious-schools.html it also issues vitriolic statements against atheist and freethinkers,[ref]https://www.duvarenglish.com/politics/2020/11/10/turkeys-atheism-association-files-criminal-complaint-against-diyanet-head

11 https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/18/world/europe/erdogan-turkey-election-religious-schools.html it also issues vitriolic statements against atheist and freethinkers,[ref]https://www.duvarenglish.com/politics/2020/11/10/turkeys-atheism-association-files-criminal-complaint-against-diyanet-head thereby jeopardizing freedom of belief.

Furthermore, in a world-wide contested move, the former Orthodox cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul was turned back into a mosque in 2020 after being a museum since 1934.[ref]https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-53506445

12 https://www.duvarenglish.com/politics/2020/11/10/turkeys-atheism-association-files-criminal-complaint-against-diyanet-head thereby jeopardizing freedom of belief.

Furthermore, in a world-wide contested move, the former Orthodox cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul was turned back into a mosque in 2020 after being a museum since 1934.[ref]https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-53506445

With all these practices, the state violated the principle of secularism.[ref]http://www.ateizmdernegi.org.tr/blog/2020/05/08/selalar-yoluyla-din-dayatmasi-ve-psikolojik-taciz/

13 https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-53506445

With all these practices, the state violated the principle of secularism.[ref]http://www.ateizmdernegi.org.tr/blog/2020/05/08/selalar-yoluyla-din-dayatmasi-ve-psikolojik-taciz/

Deterioration of the rule of law

In 2017, the AKP and its nationalist ally, the Nationalist Movement Party, adopted amendments to the Constitution that considerably increased the President’s power to the detriment of the Parliament.[ref]https://blog-iacl-aidc.org/test-3/2018/5/26/analysis-the-2017-constitutional-reforms-in-turkey-removal-of-parliamentarism-or-democracy

14 http://www.ateizmdernegi.org.tr/blog/2020/05/08/selalar-yoluyla-din-dayatmasi-ve-psikolojik-taciz/

Deterioration of the rule of law

In 2017, the AKP and its nationalist ally, the Nationalist Movement Party, adopted amendments to the Constitution that considerably increased the President’s power to the detriment of the Parliament.[ref]https://blog-iacl-aidc.org/test-3/2018/5/26/analysis-the-2017-constitutional-reforms-in-turkey-removal-of-parliamentarism-or-democracy The amendments, which were approved by a narrow majority in a national referendum, have been regarded as yet another slip into authoritarianism.[ref]https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-38883556

15 https://blog-iacl-aidc.org/test-3/2018/5/26/analysis-the-2017-constitutional-reforms-in-turkey-removal-of-parliamentarism-or-democracy The amendments, which were approved by a narrow majority in a national referendum, have been regarded as yet another slip into authoritarianism.[ref]https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-38883556

This move followed a failed coup that took place on 15 July 2016 and the ensuing crackdown. The crackdown, directed by President Erdoğan,  led to the arrest of more than 36,000 people, including members of opposition parties, and the dismissal of some 100,000 (mainly from state jobs).[ref]https://www.economist.com/europe/2016/11/10/turkey-locks-up-dissidents?frsc=dg%7Cc; https://cpj.org/2016/11/turkey-crackdown-chronicle-week-of-november-13/

16 https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-38883556

This move followed a failed coup that took place on 15 July 2016 and the ensuing crackdown. The crackdown, directed by President Erdoğan,  led to the arrest of more than 36,000 people, including members of opposition parties, and the dismissal of some 100,000 (mainly from state jobs).[ref]https://www.economist.com/europe/2016/11/10/turkey-locks-up-dissidents?frsc=dg%7Cc; https://cpj.org/2016/11/turkey-crackdown-chronicle-week-of-november-13/ By March 2019, these figures had risen to almost 100,000 people arrested and more than 150,300 dismissed.[ref]https://turkeypurge.com/

17 https://www.economist.com/europe/2016/11/10/turkey-locks-up-dissidents?frsc=dg%7Cc; https://cpj.org/2016/11/turkey-crackdown-chronicle-week-of-november-13/ By March 2019, these figures had risen to almost 100,000 people arrested and more than 150,300 dismissed.[ref]https://turkeypurge.com/

The Turkish government and the COVID-19 pandemic

During a Friday sermon in April 2020, the head of the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanent) insinuated that the coronavirus spread because of homosexuality and extramarital affairs. The Ankara Bar Association, considering this statement as being tantamount to hate speech, filed a criminal complaint to the attorney office. President Erdoğan, however, supported the head of Diyanent accusing his critics of “attacking the state and Islam”.[ref]https://www.dw.com/tr/diyanetin-eşcinsellikle-ilgili-sözlerine-beştepeden-destek/a-53255583; https://www.ekathimerini.com/252534/opinion/ekathimerini/comment/turkish-government-scapegoats-lgbti-community-for-covid-19-pandemic

18 https://turkeypurge.com/

The Turkish government and the COVID-19 pandemic

During a Friday sermon in April 2020, the head of the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanent) insinuated that the coronavirus spread because of homosexuality and extramarital affairs. The Ankara Bar Association, considering this statement as being tantamount to hate speech, filed a criminal complaint to the attorney office. President Erdoğan, however, supported the head of Diyanent accusing his critics of “attacking the state and Islam”.[ref]https://www.dw.com/tr/diyanetin-eşcinsellikle-ilgili-sözlerine-beştepeden-destek/a-53255583; https://www.ekathimerini.com/252534/opinion/ekathimerini/comment/turkish-government-scapegoats-lgbti-community-for-covid-19-pandemic

Education and children’s rights

Religion classes at primary and secondary schools are compulsory. Only Christian and Jews are allowed to be exempted from religion classes. [ref]https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/turkey/

19 https://www.dw.com/tr/diyanetin-eşcinsellikle-ilgili-sözlerine-beştepeden-destek/a-53255583; https://www.ekathimerini.com/252534/opinion/ekathimerini/comment/turkish-government-scapegoats-lgbti-community-for-covid-19-pandemic

Education and children’s rights

Religion classes at primary and secondary schools are compulsory. Only Christian and Jews are allowed to be exempted from religion classes. [ref]https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/turkey/ Article 42 of the Constitution requires this education to be conducted under the “supervision and control of the state”. While these classes cover basic information about other religions, they are predominantly about the theory and practice of Sunni Hanafi Islam.[ref]http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/atheists-the-ultimate-other-in-turkey/

20 https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/turkey/ Article 42 of the Constitution requires this education to be conducted under the “supervision and control of the state”. While these classes cover basic information about other religions, they are predominantly about the theory and practice of Sunni Hanafi Islam.[ref]http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/atheists-the-ultimate-other-in-turkey/

Compulsory Religious Education

There have been reports indicating that the religion class and its required textbooks were problematic: the textbooks were written with a Muslim worldview and interpretation of other religions, and included generalizations and derogatory statements about other religions or belief stances.[ref]https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/TurkeyTextbookReport.pdf

21 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/atheists-the-ultimate-other-in-turkey/

Compulsory Religious Education

There have been reports indicating that the religion class and its required textbooks were problematic: the textbooks were written with a Muslim worldview and interpretation of other religions, and included generalizations and derogatory statements about other religions or belief stances.[ref]https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/TurkeyTextbookReport.pdf Even more seriously, according to a 2014 report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), “atheism is treated alongside a discussion of the perceived risk of Satanism, making a dangerous suggestion about people who hold no religious beliefs”.[ref]uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/TurkeyTextbookReport.pdf

22 https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/TurkeyTextbookReport.pdf Even more seriously, according to a 2014 report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), “atheism is treated alongside a discussion of the perceived risk of Satanism, making a dangerous suggestion about people who hold no religious beliefs”.[ref]uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/TurkeyTextbookReport.pdf

After the July 2016 coup attempt, the Ministry of National Education made a more comprehensive change in the school curriculum, intensifying Sunni Muslim content in the textbooks, increasing the number of obligatory and elective religion courses, thereby damaging the country’s secular education system far more.[ref]https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/turkey-erdogan-education/

23 uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/TurkeyTextbookReport.pdf

After the July 2016 coup attempt, the Ministry of National Education made a more comprehensive change in the school curriculum, intensifying Sunni Muslim content in the textbooks, increasing the number of obligatory and elective religion courses, thereby damaging the country’s secular education system far more.[ref]https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/turkey-erdogan-education/

In June 2017, Turkey also removed the concept of evolution from its school curriculum, an act widely seen as the latest attempt by the government to erode the country’s secular character.[ref]nytimes.com/2017/06/23/world/europe/turkey-evolution-high-school-curriculum.html; https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-41003105

24 https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/turkey-erdogan-education/

In June 2017, Turkey also removed the concept of evolution from its school curriculum, an act widely seen as the latest attempt by the government to erode the country’s secular character.[ref]nytimes.com/2017/06/23/world/europe/turkey-evolution-high-school-curriculum.html; https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-41003105 “The last crumbs of secular scientific education have been removed,” said Feray Aytekin Aydogan, the head of Egitim-Sen, a union of secular-minded teachers.

Overall, analysts have noted how President Erdoğan’s government has steadily increased references to Islam in the curriculum and removed some references to the ideas of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Turkey’s secularist founder. It has also increased the number of religious schools, known as ‘imam hatip’ schools, and spoken of a desire to raise “a pious generation” of young Turks.[ref]nytimes.com/2017/06/23/world/europe/turkey-evolution-high-school-curriculum.html

25 nytimes.com/2017/06/23/world/europe/turkey-evolution-high-school-curriculum.html; https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-41003105 “The last crumbs of secular scientific education have been removed,” said Feray Aytekin Aydogan, the head of Egitim-Sen, a union of secular-minded teachers.

Overall, analysts have noted how President Erdoğan’s government has steadily increased references to Islam in the curriculum and removed some references to the ideas of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Turkey’s secularist founder. It has also increased the number of religious schools, known as ‘imam hatip’ schools, and spoken of a desire to raise “a pious generation” of young Turks.[ref]nytimes.com/2017/06/23/world/europe/turkey-evolution-high-school-curriculum.html

Religious education and the COVID-19 pandemic

During the pandemic, the official TV channel of the Ministry of Education Affairs broadcasted educational programs for the students, during which it was claimed that “atheism is against human nature”.[ref]http://www.ateizmdernegi.org.tr/blog/2020/04/01/uzaktan-dayatilan-din/

26 nytimes.com/2017/06/23/world/europe/turkey-evolution-high-school-curriculum.html

Religious education and the COVID-19 pandemic

During the pandemic, the official TV channel of the Ministry of Education Affairs broadcasted educational programs for the students, during which it was claimed that “atheism is against human nature”.[ref]http://www.ateizmdernegi.org.tr/blog/2020/04/01/uzaktan-dayatilan-din/

 

Family, community and society

Non-believers

The country is predominantly Muslim with only a small minority identifying as atheist. A 2012 Gallup survey found that 73% Turkish people described themselves as being “not a religious person”, in spite of a mere 2% of atheist respondents.[ref]https://sidmennt.is/wp-content/uploads/Gallup-International-um-tr%C3%BA-og-tr%C3%BAleysi-2012.pdf

27 http://www.ateizmdernegi.org.tr/blog/2020/04/01/uzaktan-dayatilan-din/

 

Family, community and society

Non-believers

The country is predominantly Muslim with only a small minority identifying as atheist. A 2012 Gallup survey found that 73% Turkish people described themselves as being “not a religious person”, in spite of a mere 2% of atheist respondents.[ref]https://sidmennt.is/wp-content/uploads/Gallup-International-um-tr%C3%BA-og-tr%C3%BAleysi-2012.pdf

Atheism seems to have steadily increased since.  According to the pollster KONDA, atheists have tripled in the last 10 years, and the number of non-believers has doubled, reaching among the two categories a total of 5%. This percentage rises among young people under the age of 30.[ref]https://www.dw.com/en/atheism-grows-in-turkey-as-recep-tayyip-erdogan-urges-islam/a-47018029; https://onedio.com/haber/ateist-orani-artti-dindar-orani-azaldi-21-grafikle-konda-nin-son-10-yillik-toplumsal-degisim-raporu-855882 

28 https://sidmennt.is/wp-content/uploads/Gallup-International-um-tr%C3%BA-og-tr%C3%BAleysi-2012.pdf

Atheism seems to have steadily increased since.  According to the pollster KONDA, atheists have tripled in the last 10 years, and the number of non-believers has doubled, reaching among the two categories a total of 5%. This percentage rises among young people under the age of 30.[ref]https://www.dw.com/en/atheism-grows-in-turkey-as-recep-tayyip-erdogan-urges-islam/a-47018029; https://onedio.com/haber/ateist-orani-artti-dindar-orani-azaldi-21-grafikle-konda-nin-son-10-yillik-toplumsal-degisim-raporu-855882 

These figures should be read bearing in mind the increasing social and governmental pressure against non-believers, which means that their actual number could be much higher.

Women

Violations of the rights of women and girls are legitimized for religious reasons, in a country which has “one of the highest rates of child marriage in Europe, with an estimated 15% of girls married before the age of 18 and 2% married before the age of 15”.[ref]https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/child-marriage/turkey/

29 https://www.dw.com/en/atheism-grows-in-turkey-as-recep-tayyip-erdogan-urges-islam/a-47018029; https://onedio.com/haber/ateist-orani-artti-dindar-orani-azaldi-21-grafikle-konda-nin-son-10-yillik-toplumsal-degisim-raporu-855882 

These figures should be read bearing in mind the increasing social and governmental pressure against non-believers, which means that their actual number could be much higher.

Women

Violations of the rights of women and girls are legitimized for religious reasons, in a country which has “one of the highest rates of child marriage in Europe, with an estimated 15% of girls married before the age of 18 and 2% married before the age of 15”.[ref]https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/child-marriage/turkey/

In 2017, The AKP Government passed a law allowing religious officials to perform civil marriages, a move that women’s rights groups argue is a step towards the weakening of Turkey’s secularism and could further increase the number of child marriages.[ref]aljazeera.com/news/2017/10/turkey-religion-officials-perform-civil-marriages-171019132948431.html

30 https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/child-marriage/turkey/

In 2017, The AKP Government passed a law allowing religious officials to perform civil marriages, a move that women’s rights groups argue is a step towards the weakening of Turkey’s secularism and could further increase the number of child marriages.[ref]aljazeera.com/news/2017/10/turkey-religion-officials-perform-civil-marriages-171019132948431.html

Violence against women has been on the rise, and in November 2015 the Justice Ministry appeared to suggest responding to the rise by downgrading the sentences given to those found guilty of domestic and sexual abuse and violence, effectively reclassifying violence aimed primarily at women as a “petty crime”.[ref]https://www.secularism.org.uk/news/2015/11/fears-for-womens-rights-in-turkey-as-justice-ministry-to-classify-violence-against-women-as-a-petty-crime

31 aljazeera.com/news/2017/10/turkey-religion-officials-perform-civil-marriages-171019132948431.html

Violence against women has been on the rise, and in November 2015 the Justice Ministry appeared to suggest responding to the rise by downgrading the sentences given to those found guilty of domestic and sexual abuse and violence, effectively reclassifying violence aimed primarily at women as a “petty crime”.[ref]https://www.secularism.org.uk/news/2015/11/fears-for-womens-rights-in-turkey-as-justice-ministry-to-classify-violence-against-women-as-a-petty-crime Attacks on secular women from personal social media accounts include rape threats. The legal processes regarding these crimes are often shelved, and are not reflected in the discourses of politicians and the official media.[ref]Submission to UN Special Rapporteur Dr. Fernand de Varennes on Minority Issues by Ateizm Dernegi (Ateism Association of Turkey) dated 29.06.2020

32 https://www.secularism.org.uk/news/2015/11/fears-for-womens-rights-in-turkey-as-justice-ministry-to-classify-violence-against-women-as-a-petty-crime Attacks on secular women from personal social media accounts include rape threats. The legal processes regarding these crimes are often shelved, and are not reflected in the discourses of politicians and the official media.[ref]Submission to UN Special Rapporteur Dr. Fernand de Varennes on Minority Issues by Ateizm Dernegi (Ateism Association of Turkey) dated 29.06.2020

In a widely reported speech to mark Eid al-Fitr in July 2014, Deputy Prime Minister, Bülent Arinç, said, “Chastity is so important. It’s not just a word, it’s an ornament [for women]… A woman should be chaste. She should know the difference between public and private. She should not laugh in public.”[ref]https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/30/turkish-women-defy-deputy-pm-laughter

33 Submission to UN Special Rapporteur Dr. Fernand de Varennes on Minority Issues by Ateizm Dernegi (Ateism Association of Turkey) dated 29.06.2020

In a widely reported speech to mark Eid al-Fitr in July 2014, Deputy Prime Minister, Bülent Arinç, said, “Chastity is so important. It’s not just a word, it’s an ornament [for women]… A woman should be chaste. She should know the difference between public and private. She should not laugh in public.”[ref]https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/30/turkish-women-defy-deputy-pm-laughter A social media backlash saw hundreds of women posting photographs of themselves smiling and laughing with the hashtags #direnkahkaha (“resist laughter”) and #direnkadin (“resist woman”). A year later, during an emergency parliamentary debate on military action against Kurdish militants, he told Nursel Aydogan, a pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) member of parliament: “Madam be quiet! You are a woman, be quiet!” She later responded, “I don’t take it personally. It is an insult against all women including their own (ruling party) lawmakers”.[ref]telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/turkey/11771966/Turkish-deputy-PM-embroiled-in-new-sexism-row-after-saying-As-a-woman-be-quiet.html

34 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/30/turkish-women-defy-deputy-pm-laughter A social media backlash saw hundreds of women posting photographs of themselves smiling and laughing with the hashtags #direnkahkaha (“resist laughter”) and #direnkadin (“resist woman”). A year later, during an emergency parliamentary debate on military action against Kurdish militants, he told Nursel Aydogan, a pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) member of parliament: “Madam be quiet! You are a woman, be quiet!” She later responded, “I don’t take it personally. It is an insult against all women including their own (ruling party) lawmakers”.[ref]telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/turkey/11771966/Turkish-deputy-PM-embroiled-in-new-sexism-row-after-saying-As-a-woman-be-quiet.html

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Freedom of expression is theoretically protected by the current Constitution, but is not respected in practice. Crackdowns on social media in recent years, including  enforced  blackouts of Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and Wikipedia, have gained attention worldwide.[ref]https://www.article19.org/resources/turkey-alarming-plans-to-further-crackdown-on-social-media/

35 telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/turkey/11771966/Turkish-deputy-PM-embroiled-in-new-sexism-row-after-saying-As-a-woman-be-quiet.html

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Freedom of expression is theoretically protected by the current Constitution, but is not respected in practice. Crackdowns on social media in recent years, including  enforced  blackouts of Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and Wikipedia, have gained attention worldwide.[ref]https://www.article19.org/resources/turkey-alarming-plans-to-further-crackdown-on-social-media/

Sunni Islamic propaganda is carried out in TRT, the official media channel of the state, and neutrality is not taken into account in the selection of programs and guests. The same also applies to pro-government channels that constitute the majority of the media. Intense pressure and censorship is imposed on the few media channels that do not support the government.[ref] https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/11/12/how-us-can-send-message-erdogan-free-press/; https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/president-erdogan-s-media-mouthpiece-aims-to-woo-the-west; https://www.article19.org/resources/turkey-alarming-plans-to-further-crackdown-on-social-media/

36 https://www.article19.org/resources/turkey-alarming-plans-to-further-crackdown-on-social-media/

Sunni Islamic propaganda is carried out in TRT, the official media channel of the state, and neutrality is not taken into account in the selection of programs and guests. The same also applies to pro-government channels that constitute the majority of the media. Intense pressure and censorship is imposed on the few media channels that do not support the government.[ref] https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/11/12/how-us-can-send-message-erdogan-free-press/; https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/president-erdogan-s-media-mouthpiece-aims-to-woo-the-west; https://www.article19.org/resources/turkey-alarming-plans-to-further-crackdown-on-social-media/

National and religious minorities are often made the target of hate speech in the media.[ref]https://hrantdink.org/attachments/article/2728/Hate-Speech-and-Discriminatory-Discourse-in-Media-2019.pdf

37 https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/11/12/how-us-can-send-message-erdogan-free-press/; https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/president-erdogan-s-media-mouthpiece-aims-to-woo-the-west; https://www.article19.org/resources/turkey-alarming-plans-to-further-crackdown-on-social-media/

National and religious minorities are often made the target of hate speech in the media.[ref]https://hrantdink.org/attachments/article/2728/Hate-Speech-and-Discriminatory-Discourse-in-Media-2019.pdf

Identifying as ‘atheist’ is especially problematic, prompting public smear campaigns,  insults, threats, and discrimination.

Upon the foundation of the Turkish Atheism Association (Ateizm Derneği) in April 2014, its personnel started to receive death threats.[ref]https://www.voanews.com/world-news/middle-east-dont-use/turkeys-atheists-face-hostilities-death-threats

38 https://hrantdink.org/attachments/article/2728/Hate-Speech-and-Discriminatory-Discourse-in-Media-2019.pdf

Identifying as ‘atheist’ is especially problematic, prompting public smear campaigns,  insults, threats, and discrimination.

Upon the foundation of the Turkish Atheism Association (Ateizm Derneği) in April 2014, its personnel started to receive death threats.[ref]https://www.voanews.com/world-news/middle-east-dont-use/turkeys-atheists-face-hostilities-death-threats In 2015, an Ankara court blocked for a few months the Association’s website[ref]www.ateizmdernegi.org

39 https://www.voanews.com/world-news/middle-east-dont-use/turkeys-atheists-face-hostilities-death-threats In 2015, an Ankara court blocked for a few months the Association’s website[ref]www.ateizmdernegi.org on grounds of disrupting public order and insulting religious values, as per Article 216.3 of the Penal Code.[ref]http://turkishpolicy.com/article/902/secularism-and-atheism-in-the-turkish-public-sphere; https://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-blocks-website-of-its-first-atheist-association-79163; https://english.alarabiya.net/en/media/digital/2015/03/04/Turkish-court-blocks-atheist-group-s-website
40 www.ateizmdernegi.org on grounds of disrupting public order and insulting religious values, as per Article 216.3 of the Penal Code.[ref]http://turkishpolicy.com/article/902/secularism-and-atheism-in-the-turkish-public-sphere; https://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-blocks-website-of-its-first-atheist-association-79163; https://english.alarabiya.net/en/media/digital/2015/03/04/Turkish-court-blocks-atheist-group-s-website

The Association reports that the term ‘atheist’ is used as an insult or equated with Satanism or terrorism, and how the presumption of Islam at birth for most Turkish citizens and discrimination in the workplace act to keep the non-religious from identifying as such.[ref]dw.com/en/uneasy-neighbors-in-turkey-atheism-and-islam/a-18475178; voanews.com/content/turkeys-atheists-face-hostility-death-threats/2720367.html

41 http://turkishpolicy.com/article/902/secularism-and-atheism-in-the-turkish-public-sphere; https://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-blocks-website-of-its-first-atheist-association-79163; https://english.alarabiya.net/en/media/digital/2015/03/04/Turkish-court-blocks-atheist-group-s-website

The Association reports that the term ‘atheist’ is used as an insult or equated with Satanism or terrorism, and how the presumption of Islam at birth for most Turkish citizens and discrimination in the workplace act to keep the non-religious from identifying as such.[ref]dw.com/en/uneasy-neighbors-in-turkey-atheism-and-islam/a-18475178; voanews.com/content/turkeys-atheists-face-hostility-death-threats/2720367.html

In 2020, the Association filed two relevant lawsuits prompted by derogatory statements against atheists, including against a teacher who taught his pupils that “[a]theism makes you an ill-minded person. Atheism leads to Satanism. Atheism leads to torturing animals. Atheism leads to commit suicide”,[ref]Ankara Prosecutor’s Office , Document number: 7132347730, 6 June 2020

42 dw.com/en/uneasy-neighbors-in-turkey-atheism-and-islam/a-18475178; voanews.com/content/turkeys-atheists-face-hostility-death-threats/2720367.html

In 2020, the Association filed two relevant lawsuits prompted by derogatory statements against atheists, including against a teacher who taught his pupils that “[a]theism makes you an ill-minded person. Atheism leads to Satanism. Atheism leads to torturing animals. Atheism leads to commit suicide”,[ref]Ankara Prosecutor’s Office , Document number: 7132347730, 6 June 2020 and a newspaper, Yeni Akit, which published an article alleging that atheists are potential serial killers.[ref]“They can commit serial murders for pleasure”: https://www.yeniakit.com.tr/haber/ateizmin-evreleri-nelerdir-ateistler-herkese-saygili-midir-1060634.htmlhttp://www.ateizmdernegi.org.tr/blog/2020/06/03/yeni-akit-gazetesi-hakkinda-suc-duyurusu/

43 Ankara Prosecutor’s Office , Document number: 7132347730, 6 June 2020 and a newspaper, Yeni Akit, which published an article alleging that atheists are potential serial killers.[ref]“They can commit serial murders for pleasure”: https://www.yeniakit.com.tr/haber/ateizmin-evreleri-nelerdir-ateistler-herkese-saygili-midir-1060634.htmlhttp://www.ateizmdernegi.org.tr/blog/2020/06/03/yeni-akit-gazetesi-hakkinda-suc-duyurusu/

“Blasphemy” law

Article 216 of the Penal Code outlaws insulting religious belief, with Article 216.3 stating:

“A person who publicly degrades the religious values of a section of the public shall be sentenced to a penalty of imprisonment for a term of six months to one year, where the act is capable of disturbing public peace.”[ref]https://www.legislationline.org/download/id/6453/file/Turkey_CC_2004_am2016_en.pdf#:~:text=(1)%20Any%20person%20who%20is%20employed%20as%20a%20public%20officer,in%20respect%20of%20his%20acts.

44 “They can commit serial murders for pleasure”: https://www.yeniakit.com.tr/haber/ateizmin-evreleri-nelerdir-ateistler-herkese-saygili-midir-1060634.htmlhttp://www.ateizmdernegi.org.tr/blog/2020/06/03/yeni-akit-gazetesi-hakkinda-suc-duyurusu/

“Blasphemy” law

Article 216 of the Penal Code outlaws insulting religious belief, with Article 216.3 stating:

“A person who publicly degrades the religious values of a section of the public shall be sentenced to a penalty of imprisonment for a term of six months to one year, where the act is capable of disturbing public peace.”[ref]https://www.legislationline.org/download/id/6453/file/Turkey_CC_2004_am2016_en.pdf#:~:text=(1)%20Any%20person%20who%20is%20employed%20as%20a%20public%20officer,in%20respect%20of%20his%20acts.

Highlighted Cases

In 2020, dissident journalist Enver Aysever was arrested on charges of violating Article 216/3 of the Penal Code after he shared on his personal twitter page a caricature mocking the Muslim clergy for its behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic.[ref]https://sendika.org/2020/03/artist-enver-aysever-detained-in-turkey-for-his-drawing-calling-for-scientific-approach-to-coronavirus-pandemic-580999/

45 https://www.legislationline.org/download/id/6453/file/Turkey_CC_2004_am2016_en.pdf#:~:text=(1)%20Any%20person%20who%20is%20employed%20as%20a%20public%20officer,in%20respect%20of%20his%20acts.

Highlighted Cases

In 2020, dissident journalist Enver Aysever was arrested on charges of violating Article 216/3 of the Penal Code after he shared on his personal twitter page a caricature mocking the Muslim clergy for its behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic.[ref]https://sendika.org/2020/03/artist-enver-aysever-detained-in-turkey-for-his-drawing-calling-for-scientific-approach-to-coronavirus-pandemic-580999/ He was later released, but will still have to face trial for insulting religious feelings.[ref]https://www.birgun.net/haber/enver-aysever-e-karikatur-sorusturmasi-292519; http://www.ateizmdernegi.org.tr/blog/2020/03/26/enver-ayseverin-ve-dusunce-ozgurlugunun-yanindayiz

46 https://sendika.org/2020/03/artist-enver-aysever-detained-in-turkey-for-his-drawing-calling-for-scientific-approach-to-coronavirus-pandemic-580999/ He was later released, but will still have to face trial for insulting religious feelings.[ref]https://www.birgun.net/haber/enver-aysever-e-karikatur-sorusturmasi-292519; http://www.ateizmdernegi.org.tr/blog/2020/03/26/enver-ayseverin-ve-dusunce-ozgurlugunun-yanindayiz

On 23 May 2020, the song “Bella Ciao” resounded from the loudspeakers of some mosques in Izmir, in a provocative campaign that was shared on social media. İzmir Chief Public Prosecutor announced an investigation not only on the act of sabotage, but also on those who shared the video, for the crime of ‘publicly denigrating religious values’ under Article 216/3 Penal Code.[ref]https://bianet.org/english/law/224592-prosecutors-open-investigation-after-izmir-mosques-blare-bella-ciao-song

47 https://www.birgun.net/haber/enver-aysever-e-karikatur-sorusturmasi-292519; http://www.ateizmdernegi.org.tr/blog/2020/03/26/enver-ayseverin-ve-dusunce-ozgurlugunun-yanindayiz

On 23 May 2020, the song “Bella Ciao” resounded from the loudspeakers of some mosques in Izmir, in a provocative campaign that was shared on social media. İzmir Chief Public Prosecutor announced an investigation not only on the act of sabotage, but also on those who shared the video, for the crime of ‘publicly denigrating religious values’ under Article 216/3 Penal Code.[ref]https://bianet.org/english/law/224592-prosecutors-open-investigation-after-izmir-mosques-blare-bella-ciao-song

As a result, Banu Özdemir – former Izmir provincial vice president of the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) – was taken into custody due to her sharing the story.[ref]https://www.duvarenglish.com/domestic/2020/05/25/prosecutors-change-probe-rules-to-arrest-former-chp-politician-for-bella-ciao-posts

48 https://bianet.org/english/law/224592-prosecutors-open-investigation-after-izmir-mosques-blare-bella-ciao-song

As a result, Banu Özdemir – former Izmir provincial vice president of the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) – was taken into custody due to her sharing the story.[ref]https://www.duvarenglish.com/domestic/2020/05/25/prosecutors-change-probe-rules-to-arrest-former-chp-politician-for-bella-ciao-posts

In 2014, Armenian writer and atheist Sevan Nişanyan was given a lengthy prison sentence, ostensibly for building regulation violations, but the prosecution was widely regarded as being linked to his writings on national identity, the Armenian genocide, and, in particular, his criticism of Islam. In 2017 he fled to Greece.[ref]https://www.lalibre.be/international/sevan-nisanyan-a-fui-la-turquie-je-crois-que-le-gouvernement-est-heureux-de-me-voir-partir-59772416cd70d65d24fa542c

49 https://www.duvarenglish.com/domestic/2020/05/25/prosecutors-change-probe-rules-to-arrest-former-chp-politician-for-bella-ciao-posts

In 2014, Armenian writer and atheist Sevan Nişanyan was given a lengthy prison sentence, ostensibly for building regulation violations, but the prosecution was widely regarded as being linked to his writings on national identity, the Armenian genocide, and, in particular, his criticism of Islam. In 2017 he fled to Greece.[ref]https://www.lalibre.be/international/sevan-nisanyan-a-fui-la-turquie-je-crois-que-le-gouvernement-est-heureux-de-me-voir-partir-59772416cd70d65d24fa542c

In May 2014, Sedat Kapanoğlu, founder of one of Turkey’s most popular online forums, Ekşi Sözlük (Sour Dictionary) was given a 10-month suspended sentence for blasphemy. A police complaint alleging insults to the Prophet Muhammad were made on a discussion thread at the forum. Some 40 forum members were detained by police and charged with insulting religion. The court ruled that Kapanoğlu had committed the crime of “insulting the religious values shared by a group of society”. The 10-month sentence was suspended, based on the time elapsed since the crime was committed and the means used for it.

The court also gave suspect Özgür Kuru seven months and 15 days in jail on the same charges, but also suspended the sentence. The court acquitted a third suspect, Altuğ Şahin, on the grounds that it could not be detected whether he actually committed the crime of “insulting religious beliefs.”.[ref]hurriyetdailynews.com/court-sentences-founder-of-popular-online-forum-for-blasphemy.aspx?pageID=238&nID=66544&NewsCatID=339

50 https://www.lalibre.be/international/sevan-nisanyan-a-fui-la-turquie-je-crois-que-le-gouvernement-est-heureux-de-me-voir-partir-59772416cd70d65d24fa542c

In May 2014, Sedat Kapanoğlu, founder of one of Turkey’s most popular online forums, Ekşi Sözlük (Sour Dictionary) was given a 10-month suspended sentence for blasphemy. A police complaint alleging insults to the Prophet Muhammad were made on a discussion thread at the forum. Some 40 forum members were detained by police and charged with insulting religion. The court ruled that Kapanoğlu had committed the crime of “insulting the religious values shared by a group of society”. The 10-month sentence was suspended, based on the time elapsed since the crime was committed and the means used for it.

The court also gave suspect Özgür Kuru seven months and 15 days in jail on the same charges, but also suspended the sentence. The court acquitted a third suspect, Altuğ Şahin, on the grounds that it could not be detected whether he actually committed the crime of “insulting religious beliefs.”.[ref]hurriyetdailynews.com/court-sentences-founder-of-popular-online-forum-for-blasphemy.aspx?pageID=238&nID=66544&NewsCatID=339

In October 2014, a woman not widely named in media reports was arrested for tweeting a picture of her stilettoed feet standing on a Quran. The woman was arrested after a complaint by the Ankara Mayor, who has reportedly sued as many as 3,000 people for insulting him.[ref] huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/23/turkey-stilettos-quran-tweet_n_6035198.html

51 hurriyetdailynews.com/court-sentences-founder-of-popular-online-forum-for-blasphemy.aspx?pageID=238&nID=66544&NewsCatID=339

In October 2014, a woman not widely named in media reports was arrested for tweeting a picture of her stilettoed feet standing on a Quran. The woman was arrested after a complaint by the Ankara Mayor, who has reportedly sued as many as 3,000 people for insulting him.[ref] huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/23/turkey-stilettos-quran-tweet_n_6035198.html

In 2012, Turkish authorities charged Fazıl Say, an atheist and world-renowned classical and jazz pianist, with insulting Islamic values in Twitter messages. The cited message echoed the words of famous 11th-century Persian poet, Omar Khayyam, poking fun at afterlife beliefs. Say denied the charge, but was handed a suspended 10-month jail term on 15 April 2013.[ref]https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/apr/15/turkish-composer-fazil-say-convicted-blasphemhy

52 huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/23/turkey-stilettos-quran-tweet_n_6035198.html

In 2012, Turkish authorities charged Fazıl Say, an atheist and world-renowned classical and jazz pianist, with insulting Islamic values in Twitter messages. The cited message echoed the words of famous 11th-century Persian poet, Omar Khayyam, poking fun at afterlife beliefs. Say denied the charge, but was handed a suspended 10-month jail term on 15 April 2013.[ref]https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/apr/15/turkish-composer-fazil-say-convicted-blasphemhy

In October 2015, the Supreme Court of Appeals overturned his conviction, citing Say’s own freedom of thought and expression.[ref]https://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/top-appeals-court-reverses-blasphemy-decision-against-turkish-pianist-say-90336

53 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/apr/15/turkish-composer-fazil-say-convicted-blasphemhy

In October 2015, the Supreme Court of Appeals overturned his conviction, citing Say’s own freedom of thought and expression.[ref]https://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/top-appeals-court-reverses-blasphemy-decision-against-turkish-pianist-say-90336

In 2008, Islamic creationist writer Adnan Oktar, better known by his pen name Harun Yahya, successfully sued to block the website of evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins due to “defamatory and blasphemous” content.[ref]theguardian.com/world/2008/sep/18/turkey

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