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October 29, 2010, Friday

My religion is none of the state’s business!

Since the time I learned how genocide was committed in Rwanda in 1994, I have become quite allergic to the idea of writing anything on ID cards indicating any group identity. It was not possible for Hutu militia to identify Tutsi victims by just looking at their physical features, which were no different from their own at all. Ethnic registry on the ID cards declaring who was Tutsi or Hutu had made Rwandan Genocide possible. In Rwanda, ID cards turned into death certificates for Tutsis.As far as I know, this bitter experience played a significant role in removing religion and ethnicity entries from ID cards in some countries, including Greece, which eliminated religion from ID cards in 2000. In Turkey, we still have an entry about religion in spite of a European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) finding that this is a violation of human rights.

Sinan Işık, an Alevi citizen from İzmir, applied to the ECtHR in 2005, alleging that his inability to get his religious belief registered on his ID card was in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Mr. Işık, had tried to replace the word “Islam” on his ID card with “Alevi,” and his request had been refused by the domestic court, which acted upon the negative opinion of the Directorate of Religious Affairs. The Directorate of Religious Affairs commented that “Alevis” are just a sub-group in Islam and that there is nothing wrong in their ID cards.

The ECtHR did not focus on whether “Alevi” could be written on ID cards, but it found the very entry of religion on these cards contrary to freedom of religion and choice, since this obliged citizens to declare their beliefs to state officials and whenever they have to show their ID to authorities. This judgment by the ECtHR was delivered on Feb. 2 of this year. As far as I know, there has been no preparation by the government to change the ID cards to meet the requirements of this case.

Under current practice, either you can leave this religious entry empty or get it registered as one of the “recognized” religions. They are Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Zoroastrianism. You cannot be registered as Jehovah’s Witness, Baha’i, atheist or agnostic, since they are not recognized officially as religions or beliefs.

In Turkey, you have to show or deliver a copy of your ID in order to do many things, including, but not limited to voting in elections, getting married, withdrawing money from banks, enlisting for military service, enrolling at school, at police checkpoints and so forth. So, practically, on every occasion you use your ID, you declare your religious beliefs to others.

In a secular country, religious beliefs cannot be the business of the state or state officials. Turkey is already late in executing the judgment of the ECtHR, and the file is before the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, which considered the Işık case in September 2010 and decided to resume the execution of this judgment at the latest in its March 2011 meeting. This means, in practical terms, the Committee of Ministers has given Turkey time to make the necessary changes in ID cards until this date.

Very recently, the president of Religious Affairs, Mr. Bardakoğlu himself, declared that they also wish to get this entry removed from ID cards. Who, then, is preventing this government from taking this simple step and removing this entry from ID cards?

Not only this judgment of the ECtHR, but also another one, on compulsory religious lessons, in which the ECtHR declared that the content of these lessons is contrary to freedom of religion, is also waiting to be implemented and once again, we do not see any preparation on the part of the government to comply with the decision.

As I repeatedly stated in this column before, freedoms cannot be separated, and the government cannot pretend to be defending freedom of religion, while they even do not take very simple steps to honor the findings of an international court, which basically force it to be more tolerant and to give their citizens more freedom of religion.

We all should be watching the implementation of these rulings.

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