ADF International


European Court victory for religious foundation denied registration by Turkey


  • European Court of Human Rights finds Turkey violated fundamental right to freedom of association
  • Religious minorities face increased threat to their human rights

STRASBOURG (15 January 2019) – Today, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in the case of Altınkaynak and others v. Turkey that Turkey violated the right to freedom of association when denying a religious foundation legal recognition in 2004. The ruling comes amid increasing challenges for religious minorities in Turkey with the case of US pastor Andrew Brunson as just one of many examples.

European top court upheld religious freedom. Religious minorities in Turkey must have the right to freely practice their religion.

“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,” said Robert Clarke, Director of European Advocacy for ADF International, who represented the applicants in the case.

In its unanimous ruling against Turkey, the Court held that, “like political parties, associations and foundations created for various purposes, including the…proclamation and teaching of a religion,…or the affirmation of a minority conscience are important for the proper functioning of democracy.”

Restrictions on religious minorities

In 2004, a group of Turkish nationals in Istanbul attempted to register a religious foundation as a legal entity, that was intended to serve the needs of their community. Turkish authorities denied their application. Two Turkish courts upheld this decision. As a result, Mr. Altınkaynak, and a number of other members brought the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Many religious freedom organizations have documented a strong rise in religious persecution in Turkey. Christians face difficulties when sharing their faith and in other areas such as employment and property rights.

Turkey must now address Convention violation

“This positive ruling serves as a vital step toward securing justice for the many groups denied registration by the Turkish authorities. By ratifying the European Convention on Human Rights, Turkey has agreed to be held to account on its human rights record, and that is what has happened today. Respecting the religious freedom of its citizens is not just a right protected by the Convention, but essential to democracy. We call on the Turkish government to implement this ruling in full, and to safeguard the rights of Christians and other religious minorities living in the country,” said Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF International.

Notes to editors:

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg rules on cases in which there is an alleged violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court’s decisions can affect more than 800 million Europeans across the 47 Council of Europe Member States. ADF International maintains a permanent presence in Strasbourg.

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Faith-based legal advocacy organization that protects fundamental freedoms and promotes the inherent dignity of all people.