US report blasts Turkey for restricting religious minorities

US report blasts Turkey for restricting religious minorities
Turkish police officers stand guard atop the Kariye (Chora) museum, the 11th century church of St. Savior, in Istanbul. (Reuters)
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Updated 14 May 2021

US report blasts Turkey for restricting religious minorities

US report blasts Turkey for restricting religious minorities
  • Non-Muslim religious groups face challenges in operating houses of worship, holding board elections, and exemptions from mandatory religion courses in schools
  • Report adds to concerns raised when Erdogan reconverted the historic Chora Church and famed Hagia Sophia into mosques last summer

ANKARA: A new report released Wednesday follows a trend from the US State Department in criticizing Turkey for restricting the rights of non-Muslim religious groups in the country.

The latest report focused on the challenges non-Muslim religious groups have faced in operating houses of worship, holding board elections for their foundations, and obtaining exemptions from mandatory religion courses in schools, which are in violation of the European Court of Human Rights’ 2013 ruling.

The US also expressed concerns when Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan reconverted the historic Chora Church, one of Istanbul’s most celebrated Byzantine buildings, and the famed Hagia Sophia into mosques last summer.

In 2020, religious minorities had difficulties in obtaining exemptions from mandatory religion classes in schools while the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary remained closed, the report noted.

“The government continued not to recognize Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I as the leader of the world’s approximately 300 million Orthodox Christians, consistent with the government’s stance that there was no legal obligation for it to do so,” the report said.

According to the report, the US criticized the difficulties that Protestant communities faced in training indigenous Turkish clergy in their congregations as “they relied on foreign volunteers to serve them in leadership capacities.”

However, “they could not operate training facilities in-country,” the report added.

Another annual report for 2021 released last month by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom found that an independent government panel urged Ankara to address longstanding religious freedom issues. It said the religious freedom conditions in Turkey were on a “troubling trajectory.”

The commission, which criticized the vandalism of places of worship in Turkey, also recommended that the US State Department include Turkey on the special watch list for religious freedom violations, and criticized the Turkish government for being “divisive and hostile” against its own religious minorities.

The trial of an Assyrian priest, Sefer Bilecen, who was sentenced to two years in jail on terrorism charges, was also described by the commission as a politically motivated move.

Anna Maria Beylunioglu-Atli, a lecturer at MEF University in Istanbul, said the problems that Turkey’s religious minorities have been facing are directly linked with the authoritarianism trend in the country.

“What the religious minorities experienced over the past year is the inevitable continuation of the general trend of hate speech and discrimination in line with the rising Islamic rhetoric within the society,” she told Arab News.

She added: “Since the foundation of the republic, there was a similar trend in Turkey to restrict the religious freedoms of minorities. But, the recent Islamist rhetoric in the overall politics consolidated it further.”

Such international reports do not have a transformational effect on Turkish domestic politics anymore, Beylunioglu-Atli said.

“What Turkey needs is an indigenous transformation by providing its religious minorities with citizenship rights,” she said. “Otherwise, such reports do not push the rulers to change the living conditions of the minorities in the country.”

US President Joe Biden and his administration have put the fight against all forms of religious discrimination at the center of their agenda. It also reflects the effort of the US State Department in highlighting the status of religious freedom in several countries around the world, including Turkey.

Dr. Mine Yildirim, head of the Freedom of Belief Initiative and Eurasia Civil Society Program at the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, said measures taken by the authorities in relation to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic had an impact on the religion or belief communities in interesting ways.

“Our observations and interviews indicated that in 2020 some communities felt that when the public authorities took measures related to curfews and lock-downs, the functioning and use of mosques were taken into account whereas the days of worship of other places of worship were not considered,” she told Arab News.

Yildirim said that there have been fewer attacks or vandalism against churches in 2020, mainly due to the fact that churches have been closed, and as such Christians were less visible.

“Some Alevi and Christian religious leaders have observed that the pandemic has also exasperated the inequalities in the context of public funding for religious services which is solely provided for such services provided through the Presidency of Religious Affairs,” she said.

“As they were not being able to come together in their places of worship some communities received fewer donations whereas their costs for rent and utilities and salary of religious leaders continued.”


Iraq arrests two generals on suspicion of bribery at key port

Iraq arrests two generals on suspicion of bribery at key port
Updated 12 June 2021

Iraq arrests two generals on suspicion of bribery at key port

Iraq arrests two generals on suspicion of bribery at key port
  • In Iraq, every port and border crossing has its corrupt placemen appointed by political parties or armed groups
  • In Umm Qasr, it is mainly pro-Iranian armed groups who dominate through their nominees in the customs department and the security forces, officials say

BAGHDAD: Iraq announced Saturday it has arrested two generals on suspicion of taking bribes to waive customs duties, a practice estimated to cost the state $6.3 billion a year in lost revenues.
Both men worked at the Gulf port of Umm Qasr, a key entry point for imports of foodstuffs and medicines which is reputed to be the most corrupt in Iraq.
The sums allegedly found in their position were tiny given the scale of corruption in Iraq, which is estimated to have cost the country hundreds of billions of dollars since the US-led invasion of 2003.
"$1,000 were found in the office of the general in charge of Umm Qasr North, while the other general had hidden $2,100 in a waste basket in his office," a source in the state anti-corruption body, the Commission for Integrity, told AFP.
"These were bribes intended to facilitate the smooth passage of cargos," the source said.
In Iraq, every port and border crossing has its corrupt placemen appointed by political parties or armed groups, who ensure a steady flow of illicit revenues to their patrons.
In Umm Qasr, it is mainly pro-Iranian armed groups who dominate through their nominees in the customs department and the security forces, officials say.


Algeria votes for new parliament for first time since Bouteflika’s exit

Algeria votes for new parliament for first time since Bouteflika’s exit
Updated 12 June 2021

Algeria votes for new parliament for first time since Bouteflika’s exit

Algeria votes for new parliament for first time since Bouteflika’s exit

ALGIERS: Polling stations opened Saturday in Algeria's first parliamentary election since a popular uprising forced longtime autocratic president Abdelaziz Bouteflika from office in 2019.

The vote is meant to satisfy demands of pro-democracy protesters and turn a new leaf for the troubled, albeit gas-rich, country — but which many activists plan to boycott.
Authorities have tightened the screws on the Hirak protest movement in recent weeks, and police arrested a politician and journalist who are prominent opposition figures in the run-up to the voting.
The early election is supposed to exemplify President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s “new Algeria,” with an emphasis on young candidates and those outside the political elite. A huge number of candidates — more than 20,000 — are running for the 407-seat legislature, more than half as independents and the rest on party lists.
It’s the first legislative election since former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was forced from office in 2019 after 20 years in power amid protests over corruption, joblessness and repression.
But the threat of boycott, worries about the coronavirus and general frustration with the political system mean Saturday’s turnout may be low.
Women make up half of candidates for the first time, among efforts to make a fresh start. But women have been largely invisible from the campaign — and in some cases their faces were blurred or concealed in campaign posters, according to newspaper El Watan.
Candidates had just 20 days to campaign, and Algerian media said real debate on major issues of concern, like unemployment, was mostly absent.
“With such a slew of candidates, the calculation of power is simple: to elect a patchwork assembly, without a majority, which will allow the president to create his own parliamentary majority with which he will govern,” said political scientist Rachid Grime.
A new election authority was formed to run the vote, and its chief said results may take up to 10 days to tally given the large number of candidates and the new system.
Many candidates couldn’t afford campaign posters. Independent candidates like Djamel Maafa, a former TV producer, used social networks to spread his message for lack of access to the funds and logistical structure of big parties.
Parties supporting the Hirak movement called for a boycott because they want a more fundamental political transition.
“Elections in Algeria have always proved that they are not the solution. The solution lies in democratic transition, it also lies in a dialogue around a table in order to solve the crisis,” said activist Sofiane Haddadji.


Abu Dhabi to provide free COVID-19 vaccines to those with expired residency or entry visas

Abu Dhabi to provide free COVID-19 vaccines to those with expired residency or entry visas
Updated 12 June 2021

Abu Dhabi to provide free COVID-19 vaccines to those with expired residency or entry visas

Abu Dhabi to provide free COVID-19 vaccines to those with expired residency or entry visas
  • Prior to the decision, only those with an Emirates ID or valid residency could register to take the vaccine in the capital

DUBAI: Abu Dhabi will provide free coronavirus vaccines to people with expired residency or entry visas to ensure their safety, Abu Dhabi Media Office said in a tweet on Saturday.
“To receive the free COVID-19 vaccine, any type of formal identification, even if expired, can be used to register at the designated vaccination centers,” it added.
Prior to the decision, only those with an Emirates ID or valid residency could register to take the vaccine in the capital.
The decision comes days after the emirate announced the implementation of the ‘green pass’ system of entry into most public places in the emirate.
Starting June 15, visitors to places including malls, large supermarkets, gyms and hotels must show their color code on Al Hosn app to be allowed entry.
“Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee has approved usage of green pass on Al Hosn app, based on the emirate’s 4-pillar strategy to combat COVID-19 focused on vaccination, active contract tracings, safe entry and adopting preventive measures,” it tweeted.
The Al Hosn color-coding system has six categories, including fully vaccinated, second dose recipients and first dose recipients waiting for a second dose appointment, Abu Dhabi Media Office said.
The decision covers individuals aged 16 and above.


Gulf, Arab states and organizations hail UAE election to UN Security Council

Gulf, Arab states and organizations hail UAE election to UN Security Council
This United Nations handout photo shows a view of the Security Council meeting at the UN in New York. (AFP file photo)
Updated 12 June 2021

Gulf, Arab states and organizations hail UAE election to UN Security Council

Gulf, Arab states and organizations hail UAE election to UN Security Council
  • The UAE is one of five countries elected to sit as non-permanent members on the Security Council in 2022 and 2023

DUBAI: Gulf and Arab states and organizations hailed the UAE’s election to a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for 2022-2023.
Ali bin Saleh Al-Saleh, Bahrain’s Shura Council Chairman, expressed his pride in the UAE’s achievement.
This confirms the country’s dedicated efforts to promote global peace and security, the official added, in a report from state news agency BNA.
Adel bin Abdul Rahman Al-Asoumi, speaker of the Arab Parliament, expressed his full confidence in the UAE’s ability to face major challenges, wishing the country success, Saudi Press Agency reported.
Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Dr. Yousef bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen congratulated the UAE, Gabon and Albania for their achievement. He said their winning of seats in the UN Security Council reflects their role in consolidating international peace, SPA added.
Kuwait’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Dr. Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah meanwhile discussed with UAE counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan during a phone call his country’s full support to the UAE in achieving world peace and security.
Jordan’s foreign ministry, likewise, expressed its support for the UAE in serving common Arab issues and interests and preserving international stability and security, according to state news agency Petra.

The UAE is one of five countries elected on Friday by the UN General Assembly to sit as non-permanent members on the Security Council in 2022 and 2023. The others are Brazil, Albania, Gabon and Ghana, and the new arrivals could potentially shift the power balance within the world body, diplomats predicted.

“The UAE’s campaign for Security Council membership was based on its commitment to promoting inclusiveness, stimulating innovation, building resilience and securing peace at all levels,” state news agency WAM reported.

The country affirmed its firm belief in the importance of building bridges to strengthen relations between members of the Security Council, and rebuilding the confidence of member states in the council’s ability to respond effectively to challenges to international peace and security.

“The UAE has always been ready to assume its share of the responsibility to confront urgent global challenges, in cooperation with the international community, and this was the primary motivation for our campaign for Security Council membership,” said Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE’s minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation.

“The UAE has committed itself to multilateral action, international law and the UN Charter since its establishment, and the country will continue to adhere to these principles during its membership of the Security Council.

“I am confident that our history and our role as a reliable partner and mediator will enable us to make an effective contribution during the two years that we will serve on the Security Council. We are aware of the great responsibility associated with the membership, the importance of the challenges facing the Security Council, and with determination and perseverance the UAE will be keen to maintain international peace and security.”

Lana Zaki Nusseibeh, the UAE’s permanent representative to the UN, said her country’s role on the Security Council “stems from our belief that our values and principles can help advance progress toward our common goal of international peace and security.”

She added: “During the two years that we will serve on the council, our team here in New York, Abu Dhabi and around the world will work constructively with our colleagues from the member states to overcome divisions and make tangible progress in addressing the most serious challenges, from building resilience to climate change to addressing global health crises and epidemics, and taking advantage of the potential of innovation to achieve peace.”

The UAE will be committed to working as part of the Security Council in a spirit of cooperation and partnership, she said.

FASTFACT

The five new UN Security Council members will start their terms on Jan. 1, replacing five countries whose two-year terms end on Dec. 31 — Estonia, Niger, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Tunisia and Vietnam.

Nusseibeh also congratulated Albania, Brazil, Gabon and Ghana on their election to the council and said she “looks forward to working together to build a more peaceful, secure and inclusive future.”

The five countries will take their seats on the council in January, replacing Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Vietnam, Estonia, Niger and Tunisia.

The shift will change the balance of power within the Security Council, diplomats predicted. One diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “Brazil and the UAE have strong positions in foreign policy, and Albania, which will sit on the council for the first time in its history, is also a member of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation.”

Of the 193 available votes, Brazil received 181, the UAE 179, Albania 175, Gabon 183 and Ghana 185.

The Security Council has 15 members. Five (the US, the UK, China, Russia and France) are permanent members with a right of veto, and 10 are elected, non-permanent members, half of whom are replaced every year.

The UAE joined the UN in 1971, the year the country was founded. The only time it has previously held a seat on the Security Council was in 1986-1987.

– with AFP


15-year-old Palestinian shot dead by Israeli soldiers

15-year-old Palestinian shot dead by Israeli soldiers
Palestinian women mourn during the funeral of Mohammad Hamayel, 15, who was killed during clashes with Israeli security forces in Beita, West Bank, on June 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
Updated 12 June 2021

15-year-old Palestinian shot dead by Israeli soldiers

15-year-old Palestinian shot dead by Israeli soldiers
  • Violence in the West Bank increased in early May, with at least 30 Palestinians killed in clashes with Israeli forces and in alleged attacks

RAMALLAH: A Palestinian teenager died on Friday after the Israeli Army shot him during clashes in the West Bank, Palestinian medics and the Health Ministry said.
“Mohammad Said Hamayel, 15, died in clashes” with Israeli forces near Beita, south of Nablus, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said six others had been wounded by live gunfire.
The Israeli Army did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment.
According to Wafa, the Palestinian news agency, the violence took place during “a public protest against Israel’s construction of a colonial settlement outpost near the village,” to which the army responded with live fire and teargas.

BACKGROUND

The teenager’s death comes a day after three Palestinians were killed by Israeli special forces on a mission to arrest suspected ‘terrorists’ in the occupied West Bank.

Violence in the West Bank increased in early May, with at least 30 Palestinians killed in clashes with Israeli forces and in alleged attacks.
That came amid a flare-up in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem that led to 11 days of airstrikes launched by Israel against Hamas fighters in the besieged enclave of Gaza.
West Bank villages often hold Friday demonstrations against land confiscation, house demolitions and Israeli settlements deemed illegal under international law.
The events are often punctuated by clashes with the Israeli army.
Some 475,000 Israeli settlers live in the occupied West Bank, home to more than 2.8 million Palestinians.