Aug 1 2012

The Turkish Government has continued to impose limitations on Muslims
and other religious groups through, for example, a headscarf ban in
government offices for the stated purpose of preserving the "secular
state," the U.S. State Department has said in its annual report on
religious freedom.

The report emphasized problematic issues in Turkey, such as the
reopening of the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary, the headscarf ban
in government offices, conscientious objection to military service,
compulsory religious education and difficulties faced by Alevis in
creating suitable places for worship.

"There were reports of societal abuses and discrimination based on
religious affiliation, belief, or practice. Threats against non-Muslims
created an atmosphere of pressure and diminished freedom for some
non-Muslim communities. Many Christians, Baha'is, Jews, and Alevis
faced societal suspicion and mistrust, and some elements of society
continued to express anti-Semitic sentiments," the report read.

Wearing headscarves in gov't offices

The report pointed out that Turkish authorities have continued their
ban on wearing religious Muslim headscarves in government offices
and public primary schools, although the ban was not enforced in
universities and is often ignored in some workplaces.

In its report, the U.S. State Department criticized the Turkish
government's policy regarding the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary. The
report claimed the seminary "could be reopened after being closed
for 40 years."

Some positive developments in religious freedoms were also noted in
the U.S. State Department's report, including the Turkish government
recently permitting the forming of new religious community foundations
and allowing religious community foundations to regain property which
had in previous decades been confiscated.

"The government again permitted annual religious worship services to
be held in religiously significant sites that had previously been
converted to state museums, such as Sumela Monastery near Trabzon,
Akdamar Church near Van, St. Peter's Church in Antakya, St. Nicholas'
Church near Demre, and the House of the Virgin Mary near Selcuk,"
the report stated.

The report also mentioned positive steps made toward decreasing
prejudice against graduates and applicants of imam hatip schools.

Applicants no longer encountered an automatic minimal reduction
in their university entrance examination grades when applying for
programs outside of the theology department, allowing for greater
academic freedom.

In its report the U.S. State Department criticized Turkey's failure
to recognize conscientious objection to the country's mandatory
military service. It also underlined the punishment of opposing
military service due to religious beliefs with charges in military
and civilian courts and possible prison sentences as a limitation of
religious freedom. However, the report also denounced the clouds of
suspicion hanging over the Sevag Balıkcı case, an Armenian citizen
who was killed during his army service.