US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday slammed Turkey for continuing to limit the human rights of members of some religious minority groups.
Delivering remarks on the release of the State Department’s 2016 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom (IRF), Tillerson said the Turkish government continues to restrict members of religious minorities including non-Sunni Muslim Alevis.
“Non-Sunni Muslims, such as Alevi Muslims, do not receive the same governmental protection as those enjoyed by recognized non-Muslim minorities and have faced discrimination and violence,” he said.
According to the IRF report, non-Muslim minorities in Turkey reported difficulty operating or opening houses of worship, challenging land and property disputes, and obtaining exemptions from mandatory religious classes. The government restricted minority religious groups from training clergy and continued to prosecute individuals for “openly disrespecting the religious belief of a group.”
During his speech Tillerson also raised the issue of American pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been imprisoned in Turkey since October 2016 over alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement, which Turkish authorities accuse of masterminding a failed coup last year.
“Additionally, the US continues to advocate the release of Pastor Andrew Bronson, who has been wrongfully imprisoned in Turkey,” he said.
Brunson, a North Carolina native, has been in custody since October after he and his wife were detained on immigration violation charges. At the time, the Brunsons were running a small Christian church in İzmir. They had lived in Turkey for 23 years.
Brunson’s wife, Norine, was soon released, but the pastor remained in custody and soon saw his charges upgraded to terrorism. Prosecutors have suggested in court hearings that Brunson is being held on suspicion of being a follower of Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric living in self-exile in Pennsylvania and whose views inspired the Gülen movement.
The IRF report is highly critical of China, Saudi Arabia and Turkey for the treatment of religious minorities in their respective countries.
According to the report, China continued to physically abuse, detain, arrest, torture and imprison Tibetan Buddhists, Christians and other religious minorities.
Saudi Arabia arrested and imprisoned people on charges of insulting Islam and practicing sorcery. It also detained, harassed and occasionally deported foreigners for participating in private non-Islamic worship.