Turkey defies European Convention on Human Rights by discriminating against Christians
What’s at Stake
The right to freedom of association for religious foundations and organizations.
Turkey ratified the European Convention on Human Rights in 1954. Nonetheless, it has shown a poor record in meeting its obligations: it is denying certain religious groups the freedom to worship together in their own building. Christian groups, in particular, have struggled to gain the necessary legal status to acquire their own building and secure their right of association.
Turkish law prohibits minority religions from attaining legal personality for foundations intended to serve the need of their community. This essentially bars the establishment of houses of worship, robbing Christians and other religious minorities of their ability to have fellowship with one another, worship together, and act collectively. This is a clear violation of the European Convention, which allows religious groups the right to meet as an association.
In the past, Turkish authorities granted some religious groups legal entity status but denied others. The law and procedures in Turkey, therefore, aren’t clear and appear to prejudice Christian places of worship.
In 2004, a Seventh Day Adventists church, represented by Mr. Erkin Altınkaynak, his wife, and four others, attempted to register a religious foundation as a legal entity. Their application was denied by the Turkish authorities. Upon appeal, this decision was upheld by two national courts.
In 2011, the foundation asked ADF International for legal support. In view of the fact that Turkey subscribes to the European Convention on Human Rights, ADF International and local allies filed a case with the European Court of Human Rights. On 15 January 2019, the Court ruled in favour of Mr. Altınkaynak stating that Turkey had acted in violation of the right to freedom of association as protected by Article 11 of the European Convention.
Robert Clarke, Director of European Advocacy for ADF International, who represented the applicants in the case, stated that, “in its ruling, the European Court of Human Rights established today, yet again, that everyone has the right to choose their religion and to express it publicly and privately. This includes the freedom to do so in community with others. In its judgment today, the Court has clearly recognized that the approach taken by the Turkish officials and courts fell short of the standard set out in the Convention. Religious minorities in Turkey must have the right to freely practice their religion as much as any other person.”
Our Role in the Case
ADF International represented Mr. Altınkaynak before the European Court of Human Rights.