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Washington, D.C. March 26 (ICC) – An annual U.S. government report added Turkey for the first time to a list of worst violators of religious freedoms, alongside countries such as Iran and North Korea.

The report released by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on March 20 urged the State Department to designate Turkey as a “country of particular concern” (CPC), faulting the ally’s treatment of religious minorities, especially Christians. Though unlikely, the recommendation could subject Turkey to sanctions if designated a CPC by the State Department. Last year, the State Department designated only eight countries as CPCs of a total of 14 recommended by USCIRF.

The vote, which passed by a narrow 5 to 4 margin, was “strongly” opposed by some commissioners who said that Turkey has begun to “rectify many of [its] religious freedom restrictions.” Other commissioners, however, are not as optimistic.

[Turkey’s recommendation] may surprise some. After all, Turkey’s methods of religious control and repression stand in contrast to the bloody, un-self-conscious crackdowns found in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and North Korea,” USCIRF commissioner Nina Shea wrote in the National Review Online. “These days, Turkey uses more sophisticated, subtler measures that are resulting in the elimination of its Christian and non-Muslim minorities.”

Turkey’s Christian minorities struggle to find places in which they can worship, are denied seminaries in which to train future leaders, are barred from wearing clerical garb in public, see the trials of the murderers of their prominent members end with impunity, and, above all, lack the legal right to be recognized as churches…” Shea continued. “Turkey’ s laws, aimed at promoting extreme secular nationalism, also encourage a culture of animosity toward Christians, who are seen to undermine ‘Turkishness,’ despite Christianity’s 2,000-year presence there.”

Commissioners who voted in favor of Turkey’s CPC recommendation say that the country’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) had been given ample time to improve religious freedom within its borders, but did little during the reporting period which covers April 2011 – February 2012.

It’s what they didn’t do for another year,” USCIRF Chair Leonardo Leo told the Turkish daily Today’s Zaman in response to why Turkey was recommended as a CPC.

Turkey joined Tajikistan as the newly recommended CPC designations in 2012. The list also includes Burma, China, Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.


Aidan Clay is the Middle East Regional Manager for International Christian Concern (ICC), a Washington, DC-based human rights organization that exists to support persecuted Christians worldwide by providing awareness, advocacy, and assistance ( For more information, contact Aidan Clay at