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USCIRF 2022 Annual Religious Freedom Report: Turkey


The most recent report released by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom shows that conditions in Turkey have remained stagnant and progressed without improvement from 2020. Religious communities other than those that follow the Islamist regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan endured both de jure and everyday discrimination “that prevented or seriously impacted their ability to practice their religion or belief.” The government refused to allow legal rights to members and leaders of minority religious groups and charged those who attempted to use conscientious objection to military service.


“Government policies—many of which have existed and been implemented for years and in some cases decades—stifled the ability of religious and nonreligious communities to express and practice their beliefs. Regulations and acts of government interference regularly impeded the functioning of those communities (both by denying them status as legal entities and blocking elections), prevented them from opening places of worship, and restricted them from training clergy and future religious leaders.”


The Turkish government targeted both religious and ethnic minority groups. The police detained and arrested imams who were found preaching in Kurdish, equating their practices with terrorist activity. Alevis, Turkey’s largest religious minority frequently denied rights by the Turkish government, faced vandalism and destruction of religious sites and property. Overall the Turkish government failed to protect historical religious and worship sites; destruction was carried out unpunished by civilians and otherwise. Protestants were also the object of attack, especially foreign Protestants who unsuccessfully tried to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) to have immigration bans disbanded.


Antisemitism ran rampant in Turkey with many comments made by higher-up government officials, including President Erdoğan himself. He used antisemitic rhetoric in a public speech and sentenced a man who called him a “Jew” on social media to over seven years in prison for insulting the President. Individuals and groups also participated in antisemitic attacks against the Jewish community by vandalizing synagogues and conducting cyberattacks against Turkey’s only Jewish newspaper. Two students flying flags representative of the LGBTQIA+ community were arrested, furthering Turkey’s mission to “[penalize] those perceived to have insulted or mocked Islam.”


The USCIRF provides policy suggestions to the US Government to curb Turkey’s infringement on religious freedoms despite an already-strained relationship between the two. Most notably, they call the US to add Turkey to the Department of State’s Special Watch List for countries violating the International Religious Freedom Act. The report states that the US must push Turkey for the reopening of the Halki Seminary and full submission to ECtHR rulings on religious beliefs. Congress should take into consideration Turkey’s consistent violation of human rights when assessing US-Turkey relations.

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