ECHR fines Turkey for violating Alevis’ right to religious freedom
STRASBOURGThe European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has found Turkey guilty of violating the right to religious freedom of Alevis and discriminating against them by withholding public funds for Alevi worship houses “with no objective and reasonable justification.” As a result of the verdict, Turkey has been ordered to pay 3,000 euros in damages to each of the 203 applicants.
“The assessment made by the domestic authorities of the Alevi faith equates in particular to a refusal to recognize the religious nature of that faith. This also has numerous consequences liable to adversely affect, among other matters, the organization and continuation of the religious activities of the Alevi faith and their funding,” the ECHR ruled, adding that refusing the applicants’ claims amounted to denying the religious nature of the Alevi faith on the part of the state and “constituted an interference with the applicants’ right to freedom of religion as guaranteed by Article 9 § 1 of the Convention.”
Twelve of the ECHR’s 17 judges held that the case constituted a violation of Article 9, which protects religious freedoms, while 16 said there had been a violation of Article 14, which calls for the securing of rights and freedoms without discrimination on any grounds.
The case was brought before the ECHR on August 2010 by 203 Turkish nationals, led by İzzettin Doğan. The applicants argued that the Turkish state favored the Sunni Muslims, who make up a majority of Turkish citizens, over Alevis, as it refused to provide religious public services to the latter.
The applicants maintained that the refusal resulted from a negative “assessment” of their faith by state authorities and implied a breach of the state’s neutrality and impartiality in the face of different religious beliefs. They also claimed to receive a less favorable treatment than followers of Sunni Islam, “without any objective and reasonable justification.”
Prior to appealing to the ECHR, Alevis had appealed to Turkey’s prime minister by signing a petition requesting the official recognition of “cemevis” - Alevi worship houses – as places of worship, paying the salaries of Alevi religious leaders as civil servants, and allocating money from the budget for Alevi religious institutions. All of these conditions are practiced in Turkey for followers of Sunni Islam.
Following a rejection by the Prime Ministry, a total 1,919 Alevis filed another legal application with the Ankara Administrative Court claiming that the authorities “almost completely disregard Alevi citizens.” This application was also rejected.
“The national budget is funded mainly by revenue from taxes paid by all citizens. No distinction on grounds of religion or membership of a religious movement is made when it comes to tax collection,” the Alevi applicants said, criticizing Turkey’s Directorate General of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) for confining itself to Sunni schools of thought instead of “encompassing the Muslim religion as a whole.”
In its ruling, the ECHR held that the finding of a violation in itself constituted sufficient justification and did not ask Turkey to make any additional payments in non-pecuniary damages. However, the state is to pay 3,000 euros to cover the costs and expenses of the 203 applicants.
Against the court’s ruling, some dissenting ECHR judges argued that the case was a “typical religious discrimination case,” stating Turkey in fact did not violate the Alevis right to religious freedoms, as the faith’s followers are free to declare and practice their beliefs even if it is not supported directly by the state.