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).
|Constitution and government||Education and children’s rights||Family, community, society, religious courts and tribunals||Freedom of expression advocacy of humanist values|
Countries: Barbados, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Central African Republic, Chile, Congo, Republic of the, Ecuador, Estonia, Fiji, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Japan, Kenya, Kosovo, Mexico, Mongolia, Namibia, Nauru, Netherlands, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, South Africa, South Sudan, Taiwan, Ukraine
Countries: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Brunei Darussalam, Comoros, Croatia, Egypt, Eritrea, Ghana, Iran, Iraq, Kenya, Lebanon, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Morocco, Nigeria, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Zimbabwe
Countries: Albania, Antigua and Barbuda, Belgium, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Congo, Republic of the, Djibouti, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Gabon, Honduras, Iceland, India, Japan, Korea, Republic of, Kyrgyzstan, Mali, Mexico, Mongolia, Montenegro, Mozambique, Namibia, Nauru, Netherlands, São Tomé and Príncipe, South Africa, Sweden, Taiwan, Timor-Leste (East Timor), United States of America, Uruguay
Countries: Albania, Antigua and Barbuda, Belgium, Benin, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Canada, Chile, Congo, Republic of the, Dominica, Ecuador, Estonia, France, Ghana, Guatemala, Iceland, Japan, Korea, Republic of, Kosovo, Latvia, Luxembourg, Mexico, Micronesia, Monaco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Palau, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sweden, Taiwan, Uruguay, Venezuela
Countries: no countries relate to this boundary condition
This condition is unusual in that it is applied in cases where there is some social discrimination, but it is not pervasive or nationwide. This condition is applied when there is sufficient background evidence to warrant the assertion that discrimination is not anomalous but widespread, and this condition may be applied for example even where if there is no legislative discrimination or where the non-religious may have legal recourse against such discrimination. However, societal discrimination (i.e. discrimination by peers, as opposed to state or legal discrimination) is not easily measured, and for this reason the Report does not currently have similar more severe boundary conditions to capture higher levels of social discrimination per se. In principle these may be introduced in future. However, we consider that countries with actual higher levels of social discrimination against the non-religious will generally already meet other higher level (more severe) boundary conditions under this thematic strand.
Applied when the influence of religion on public life undermines others’ rights, such as SRHR, women’s rights, LGBTI+ rights.
May be applied when the influence is overt (i.e. when religious laws are applied to undermine others’ rights) or covert (i.e. where religious pressure groups exert influence to affect policy)
Applied when overriding acts of oppression by the State are extreme, to the extent that the question of freedom of thought and expression is almost redundant, because all human rights and freedoms are quashed by authorities.
Countries: North Korea
Countries: Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Bahrain, Belize, Botswana, Brazil, Cambodia, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Eritrea, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guinea, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Latvia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Madagascar, Malta, Moldova, Palestine, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Timor-Leste (East Timor), Togo, Tunisia, United Kingdom, Zambia, Zimbabwe
Countries: Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Belize, Brunei Darussalam, Burundi, Cameroon, Canada, Comoros, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominica, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Fiji, Finland, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Guinea, Guyana, Haiti, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Kosovo, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Micronesia, Morocco, Nepal, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Pakistan, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Samoa, Senegal, Singapore, Slovakia, Solomon Islands, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Switzerland, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, United Kingdom, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Yemen, Zimbabwe
Countries: Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominica, Equatorial Guinea, Fiji, Finland, Germany, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Italy, Kiribati, Liechtenstein, Macedonia, Micronesia, Moldova, Monaco, New Zealand, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Spain, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom, Vanuatu, Venezuela
Countries: Algeria, Angola, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Brazil, Burundi, Central African Republic, Congo, Democratic Republic of, Cuba, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Gabon, Guinea, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Laos, Libya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Maldives, Morocco, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Oman, Philippines, Russia, Rwanda, Samoa, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Tajikistan, Thailand, Togo, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Zambia, Zimbabwe
Countries: Andorra, Armenia, Benin, Bhutan, Cambodia, Cameroon, Congo, Republic of the, Côte d'Ivoire, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Guinea-Bissau, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Macedonia, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Mexico, Myanmar (Burma), Niger, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Singapore, South Africa, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Turkey, Uganda
Countries: Albania, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bangladesh, Belize, Bolivia, Botswana, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Denmark, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Fiji, Georgia, Ghana, Greece, Guyana, Haiti, Hungary, India, Ireland, Japan, Kenya, Kiribati, Korea, Republic of, Kosovo, Kuwait, Laos, Latvia, Lebanon, Liberia, Macedonia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Mozambique, Namibia, Nauru, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Timor-Leste (East Timor), Turkey, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Vanuatu
This condition is applied where there are miscellaneous indicators that organs of the state offer various forms of support for a religion, or to religion in general over non-religious worldviews, suggesting a preference for those beliefs, or that the organs of that religion are privileged.
Countries: Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Belize, Bhutan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Burundi, Canada, Cape Verde, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Finland, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Mauritius, Montenegro, Mozambique, Nepal, New Zealand, Nigeria, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Rwanda, San Marino, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, Slovakia, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Timor-Leste (East Timor), Tunisia, Turkey, Tuvalu, United Kingdom, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Zimbabwe
Countries: Albania, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Djibouti, Dominica, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Finland, Germany, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Kiribati, Korea, Republic of, Laos, Latvia, Liberia, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Malta, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Moldova, Monaco, Myanmar (Burma), Nepal, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Norway, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Serbia, Singapore, Swaziland, Tanzania, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States of America, Vanuatu, Zimbabwe
This condition highlights countries where schools subject children to fundamentalist religious instruction with no real opportunity to question fundamentalist tenets, or where lessons routinely encourage hatred (for example religious or ethnic hatred). The wording “significant number of schools” is not given a rigid quantification (sometimes the worst-offending schools are unregistered, illegal, or otherwise uncounted); however the condition is not applied in cases where only a small number of schools meet the description and may be anomalous, as opposed to being indicative of a widespread problem.
Countries: Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guyana, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Latvia, Lebanon, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mauritania, Morocco, Myanmar (Burma), Nigeria, Oman, Palestine, Paraguay, Qatar, Russia, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Thailand, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Zimbabwe
Countries: Angola, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Burundi, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, China, Congo, Republic of the, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ethiopia, Germany, Ghana, Haiti, Hungary, Italy, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Lebanon, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritania, Mexico, Nepal, North Korea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Serbia, Singapore, Tajikistan, Tonga, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Zambia
Countries: Algeria, Argentina, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Finland, Georgia, Haiti, Iceland, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Mauritania, Monaco, Morocco, Myanmar (Burma), Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Tunisia, Tuvalu, United Kingdom, Yemen, Zambia
Countries: Argentina, Armenia, Belize, Burundi, Cambodia, Chad, China, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Guinea, Haiti, Hungary, Indonesia, Ireland, Jamaica, Jordan, Kosovo, Kuwait, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), Nepal, Nicaragua, Niger, Oman, Palestine, Peru, Philippines, Samoa, Swaziland, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda, United Kingdom, Zambia
Countries: Afghanistan, Algeria, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Burundi, China, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Grenada, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Montenegro, Morocco, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Poland, Russia, Saint Lucia, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, Vanuatu, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zimbabwe
Countries: Algeria, Andorra, Argentina, Armenia, Bahamas, Bahrain, Benin, Bhutan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Finland, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Haiti, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kiribati, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Mauritius, Moldova, Morocco, Myanmar (Burma), Nepal, Nigeria, Oman, Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Samoa, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Thailand, Timor-Leste (East Timor), Tonga, Tunisia, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States of America, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe
Countries: Algeria, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam, Comoros, Cyprus, Egypt, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Finland, Gambia, Germany, Grenada, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Maldives, Morocco, Myanmar (Burma), Oman, Palestine, Poland, Qatar, Russia, Rwanda, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Singapore, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Tanzania, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Vanuatu, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe
Countries: Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Central African Republic, Chad, Denmark, Eritrea, Germany, Haiti, Hungary, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Malawi, Malaysia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Romania, Rwanda, Solomon Islands, Switzerland, Tunisia, United Kingdom, Vanuatu
Countries: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belize, Brunei Darussalam, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Fiji, Gambia, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Macedonia, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Morocco, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Tanzania, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen
This condition may apply if specifically religious education, religious materials, or specific religious denominations are so tightly controlled that children are in fact over-protected from exposure to religion and are likely unable to explore or construct their own worldview in accordance with their evolving capacities. This condition helps us to classify states (perhaps with secular constitutions) which have criminalized specifically religious beliefs or practices. This condition is not applied if the restricted beliefs or practices are found to be outlawed due to their being of an extremist variety. While this condition does not directly reflect discrimination against non-religious persons or non-religious ideas, it does represent an overall threat to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief; such restrictions could spill over to affect non-religious beliefs later; and they pose a risk of backlash against over-zealous secular authorities or even against non-religious individuals by association.
Countries: Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Bhutan, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Chad, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, El Salvador, Finland, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guinea, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Jordan, Korea, Republic of, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Montenegro, Myanmar (Burma), Namibia, Nepal, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, Timor-Leste (East Timor), Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Yemen, Zimbabwe
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.
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.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 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.8https://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”;9https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/18/world/europe/erdogan-turkey-election-religious-schools.html it also issues vitriolic statements against atheist and freethinkers,10https://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 1934.11https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-53506445
With all these practices, the state violated the principle of secularism.12http://www.ateizmdernegi.org.tr/blog/2020/05/08/selalar-yoluyla-din-dayatmasi-ve-psikolojik-taciz/
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.13https://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.14https://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).15https://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.16https://turkeypurge.com/
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”.17https://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
Religion classes at primary and secondary schools are compulsory. Only Christian and Jews are allowed to be exempted from religion classes. 18https://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.19http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/atheists-the-ultimate-other-in-turkey/
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.20https://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”.21uscirf.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.22https://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.23nytimes.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.24nytimes.com/2017/06/23/world/europe/turkey-evolution-high-school-curriculum.html
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”.25http://www.ateizmdernegi.org.tr/blog/2020/04/01/uzaktan-dayatilan-din/
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.26https://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 30.27https://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.
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”.28https://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.29aljazeera.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”.30https://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.31Submission 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.”32https://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”.33telegraph.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 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.34https://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.35 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.36https://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.37https://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 website38www.ateizmdernegi.org on grounds of disrupting public order and insulting religious values, as per Article 216.3 of the Penal Code.39http://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.40dw.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”,41Ankara 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.42“They can commit serial murders for pleasure”: https://www.yeniakit.com.tr/haber/ateizmin-evreleri-nelerdir-ateistler-herkese-saygili-midir-1060634.html; http://www.ateizmdernegi.org.tr/blog/2020/06/03/yeni-akit-gazetesi-hakkinda-suc-duyurusu/
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.”43https://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.
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.44https://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.45https://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.46https://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.47https://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.48https://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.”.49hurriyetdailynews.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.50 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 2013.51https://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.52https://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.53theguardian.com/world/2008/sep/18/turkey
“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
|↑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|
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
|↑31||Submission to UN Special Rapporteur Dr. Fernand de Varennes on Minority Issues by Ateizm Dernegi (Ateism Association of Turkey) dated 29.06.2020|
|↑35||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/|
|↑39||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|
|↑41||Ankara Prosecutor’s Office , Document number: 7132347730, 6 June 2020|
|↑42||“They can commit serial murders for pleasure”: https://www.yeniakit.com.tr/haber/ateizmin-evreleri-nelerdir-ateistler-herkese-saygili-midir-1060634.html; http://www.ateizmdernegi.org.tr/blog/2020/06/03/yeni-akit-gazetesi-hakkinda-suc-duyurusu/|