Turkey slams US report on religious freedom

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The Turkish Foreign Ministry has slammed a U.S. report on international religious freedom, describing its section on Turkey as “a repetition of certain baseless claims.”
“Most parts of the text in connection with Turkey constitute a repetition of certain baseless claims already raised in previous years,” said Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hami Aksoy in a written statement on May 30, state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

“As we have reiterated on various occasions, it is certain that in Turkey, no individual is subjected to any legal or administrative action on grounds such as religion or ethnic origin,” the statement read.

The “International Religious Freedom Report for 2017,” released by the U.S. Department of State, aims to voice the problems religious communities, especially minorities, are facing in countries.

The report highlights that since 2011 the General Directorate of Foundations (GDF) had received 1,560 applications from religious minority foundations that had applied for compensation for seized properties. The GDF returned 333 properties and paid compensation for 21 additional properties, however it rejected the other applications pending from 2011.

“The Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Jewish, Syrian Orthodox, Bulgarian Orthodox, Georgian Orthodox, Chaldean, and Armenian Protestant communities, which had previously submitted applications for the return of properties, continued to say these unresolved claims were an issue for their communities,” the report said.

“A Mardin court denied appeals from the Syriac Mor Gabriel Foundation regarding the Treasury’s ownership of expropriated Syriac community properties, including churches, graveyards, and village homes not registered to a Syriac foundation” it added, referring to the minority community’s claims in Turkey’s southeastern province.

But the ministry pointed that a new regulation put into effect in March 2018 “legally enabled the transfer of 56 pieces of immovable property from the General Directorate of Foundations to the Syriac foundations.”

“With this step, Turkey has affirmed once again its constructive and open-minded attitude regarding freedom of worship and religion,” said the Foreign Ministry statement.

Meanwhile, the ministry also criticized that the report did not openly mention Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric self-exiled in the U.S, and his movement as terrorists.

“The citation of FETO/PDY [Fethullahist Terrorist Organization/Parallel State Structure] as a terrorist organization only in reference to our government and the deficient allusion to the terrorist coup attempt of July 15, 2016 and the damage inflicted on our country and our nation by the said terrorist organization are grave and serious flaws,” it said.

The report also pointed that thousands of FETÖ suspects were arrested or suspended from public institutions including the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet).

The U.S. Department of State’s call for the release of jailed U.S. citizen Protestant pastor Andrew Brunson, who is also accused of having links to FETÖ and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), was also recalled in the report.