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European Parliament Member Antonios Trakatellis Raises Questions Regarding Violation of Religious Freedom in Turkey with Commissioner Olli Rehn

Subject: Violation of religious freedoms in Turkey

According to recent press articles and reports, the Turkish authorities continue to violate fundamental rights, especially religious freedoms, oppressing and creating severe problems for both the Patriarchate and its churches. In particular, ahead of the forthcoming adoption of the law on religious foundations, there have been an increasing number of attacks on 'occupied' monasteries belonging to the Patriarchate and on property which appears to be vacant because of its ownership status. In view of this situation and the fact that the Commission appears to be incapable of dealing with the issues involved, despite repeated warnings, will the Commission answer the following?

Professor Trakatellis: Is it aware that the Monastery of the Transfiguration of our Lord (Metamorphosis tou Sotiros, also known as the Makarios Monastery) situated at Halki and belonging to the Patriarchate, together with its surrounding outhouses, is threatened by demolition by the municipal Forestry Directorate?

Mr. Rehn: The recent acts of violence against Christian Orthodox churches in and around Istanbul are not conducive to the establishment of an atmosphere of tolerance that is necessary for the full respect of freedom of religion in practice. The Turkish Ministry of Interior issued a Circular in July 2007 to address such individual criminal acts against non-Muslim places of worship. This is a positive step that needs to be translated into an improvement of the situation on the ground.

Professor Trakatellis: Has the Commission been informed that officials from the Directorate-General for Religious Foundations went to the Holy Monastery of St. George of Karypis, carried out a survey of the property outside the monastery walls and made an additional demand for payment of rent from the Greek tenants living there?

Mr. Rehn: The Commission follows closely the administrative processes initiated by the municipal forestry department and the Directorate General for Foundations, in particular as regards their impact on property rights and freedom of religion.

Professor Trakatellis: Is it aware of the recent regrettable events which have befallen Greek Orthodox churches, such as the Holy Churches of Pammegiston Taxiarhon Sostheniou and Ilias Skoutareos, which have been savagely attacked as a result of the intensely nationalist climate currently prevailing in Turkey?

Mr. Rehn: The Commission monitors issues related to religious freedom in Turkey, in line with the principles, priorities and conditions contained in the Accession Partnership. Specific issues are raised with the Turkish authorities in the framework of the regular political dialogue at all appropriate levels and developments are reported in the annual Commission Progress Reports. Furthermore, freedom of religion and property rights are reviewed as part of the accession negotiations, in the context of Chapter 23 - Judiciary and Fundamental Rights.

Professor Trakatellis: How are these events and the recent acts of vandalism against Greek Orthodox churches compatible with Turkey's European prospects, the Turkey-EU partnership1 and, in particular, the fact that Istanbul has been chosen to be European capital of culture in 2010? When will the Commission decide to suspend accession negotiations temporarily until Turkey guarantees, in actual practice, respect for fundamental rights and religious freedoms?

Mr. Rehn: The accession process has been a catalyst for reforms in Turkey, and continues to play such a role to date. The principles governing accession negotiations with Turkey are set out in the Negotiating Framework of 3 October 2005. The Negotiating Framework provides that advancement of the negotiations is guided by Turkey's progress in preparing for accession, and that progress is measured inter alia against the requirements of the Copenhagen political criteria, which include freedom of religion.


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