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U.S. commission notes religious freedom violations in Turkey

ICC NOTE: In the wake of the brutal murder of evangelists in Turkey , USCIRF also addresses the importance of protecting the rights of religious minorities.

By Regina Linskey

5/2/07 Turkey For the full article (CNS) — The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom strongly urged the U.S. government to include concerns regarding Turkey ‘s religious freedom violations on the U.S.-Turkey bilateral agenda.

The United States should urge Turkey to continue its legal reforms to protect the rights of Turkey’s religious minorities, including Catholics, said the commission, an independent, bipartisan, federal agency mandated by Congress to review international religious freedom and provide recommendations for its advancement to the U.S. secretary of state.

The Turkish government should take steps to “address the restrictions on the right to own property and train clergy” and “undertake significant steps to establish and enhance trust between the majority and minority” religions in the country, added the commission.

Though Turkey did not make the commission’s infamous list of countries with egregious human rights violations, the struggle regarding Turkey ‘s policy of secularization, treatment of minority religions and growing Muslim identity earned the country a special section in the commission’s 2007 Annual Report.

The report was released in Washington May 2. It designated North Korea , Iran , China , Sudan , Vietnam and Saudi Arabia as “countries of particular concern” for their blatant denial of religious freedom.

In many cases, people are killed, tortured, detained or deported for practicing their religion in these countries, the report said.

Countries on the commission’s less severe “watch list” included Iraq and Afghanistan .

Minorities in Turkey , including Catholics, do not have full, legal recognition, noted the commission in the report.

Turkey has only 32,000 Catholics in a population of 72 million. Pope Benedict XVI visited Turkey Nov. 28-Dec. 1, 2006.

“Many of the most serious problems faced by religious minorities in Turkey , particularly the Christian groups, involve property rights and ownership,” said the commission.

It added, “the members of some minority groups, particularly members of the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant communities, are sometimes subject to societal attacks, usually by nationalists or religious extremists.”

And Christian communities in Turkey are often ethnic minorities, which has led extreme nationalist Turks to question their loyalty to Turkey , it said.

Turkey has been in the spotlight for its legal reforms regarding human rights and religious freedom as the country — known as the bridge between the East and the West — is in negotiations to join the European Union.

Since negotiations began in 2002, Turkey has ratified international human rights treaties and reformed domestic policies. However the policies’ implementation remains in question.

But, the commission said in the report, “without exception, everyone the delegation met with in Turkey , including those among all of Turkey ‘s religious communities, stressed EU membership as the most promising means to advance religious freedom and other human rights protections and to drive democracy forward in Turkey .”

Meanwhile, the commission underlined two major areas of concern in Iraq : the Iraqi government’s human rights violations through its state security forces and the government’s “apparent tolerance of religiously motivated attacks and other religious freedom abuses carried out by armed Shiite factions.”

In some cases, the commission said, the government complies with the activities of militias such as the Mahdi Army and the Badr Organization. The commission called the Mahdi Army and Badr Organization “para-state actors.”

The commission added that human rights in Iraq are deteriorating dramatically for non-Muslim groups, such as Chaldean Catholics, which has resulted in thousands of Iraqi refugees.