Former minister faces investigation due to remarks criticizing headscarf freedom

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An investigation has been launched into a former Turkish culture minister due to his recent remarks criticizing headscarf freedom for public servants, according to a statement from a prosecutor’s office.

The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office announced on Monday that an investigation had been launched into Fikri Sağlar on charges of “provoking hatred and enmity among the public” and “insulting the public.”

Sağlar, a former deputy from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), attracted widespread criticism when he said in televised remarks on Dec. 30 that he doubted he would be given a fair trial if he appeared before a judge who wears a “turban.”

He said the problem is not with headscarves but with turbans. Turkey’s secularists have been differentiating between the words headscarf and turban, seeing the latter as the symbol of political Islam, while the former is considered an accessory traditionally worn by Turkish women.

“The headscarf is a traditional part of the clothing worn in Anatolia for centuries. There is a difference [between headscarf and turban]. I am speaking about my own experience. If I appear before a judge who wears a turban, I would doubt that she’d protect my rights and deliver justice. I have in fact experienced this,” said Sağlar.

Since the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, a strict version of secularism had been in place, and wearing headscarves in public institutions was banned in the 1980s.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government abolished a ban on the wearing of headscarves at Turkish universities in 2010, while the same ban was abolished for civil servants in 2017.

According to Turkey’s secular circles, the headscarf is a symbol of religious conservatism, and they accuse President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of abusing the headscarf ban to polarize society and consolidate its conservative grass roots.

Sağlar’s remarks attracted sharp criticism not only from the AKP and Erdoğan but also from his former party, the CHP. Erdoğan accused him of being a representative of the “fascist CHP” mentality, while CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said he found Sağlam’s remarks unacceptable and discriminatory and that everyone has to respect a woman’s choice about her attire.

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