Turkey put on 'worst' list for religious freedom

March 21, 2012

Turkey, a key U.S. and NATO ally, stands as a new and controversial
addition to an annual list of the worst offenders of religious freedom
by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Four of
nine commissioners objected to putting Turkey among "Countries of
Particular Concern"—a who's who of dictatorships and closed societies.

Some
Greek Orthodox Americans are pleased with the decision, citing longtime
abuses against Orthodox Christians in the historic heartland of Eastern
Orthodoxy. "Turkey hasn't been tolerant," said Alexander Karloutsos,
assistant to Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of
America.

Istanbul is the headquarters of Ecumenical Patriarch
Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of the world's 250 million Eastern
Orthodox Christians. Commented Karloutsos: "Our seminary remains closed.
We can't educate our clergy. We don't have a legal personality in
Turkey and neither does the Catholic Church, Protestant churches, the
Armenian Church, the Jewish community."

Turkey's ambassador in
Washington decried the March 20 decision. "The categorization of Turkey
as a CPC list country not only damages the credibility and relevance of
the USCIRF," said Ambassador Namik Tan, "but also raises serious
questions about the political motivation that drives this exercise."

Congress
established the independent watchdog panel in 1998 to monitor religious
freedom globally. It recommends countries to the State Department for
inclusion on its own annual list of worst offenders, which is typically
smaller.

This year, the commission's list includes 16 countries, two of which are new: Turkey and Tajikistan.

The
commission's new report cites Turkey's "systematic limitations on the
freedom of religion or belief," particularly in relation to the
country's non-Muslim religious minorities, and their rights to train
clergy, offer religious education and maintain places of worship.

But
the report also notes some areas in which Turkey has improved,
including better protections for the property of
non-Muslims—improvements the State Department has also noted in recent
months.  —RNS