EGMR: Grand Chamber hearing in a case concerning the refusal of a request for provision of a special religious public service for Alevis

The European Court of Human Rights is holding a Grand Chamber hearing in the case of Doğan and Others v. Turkey (application no. 62649/10). The applicants are 203 Turkish nationals who belong to the Alevi faith. The case concerns the rejection of the request made by the applicants, who belong to the Alevi faith, for provision of a religious public service which, they maintain, has been granted to date exclusively to the majority of citizens, who subscribe to the Sunni understanding of Islam. They contend that they have been discriminated against compared with citizens who follow the Sunni branch of Islam. 

On 22 June 2005 the applicants submitted a petition to the Prime Minister in which they complained that the Religious Affairs Department confined itself to cases concerning only one theological school of thought while disregarding all other faiths, including the Alevi faith. The petition claimed that Alevis’ rights were disregarded, that their places of worship (cemevis) were not recognised as such and that numerous obstacles prevented them from being built, that no provision was made in the budget for the running of existing places of worship and that the exercise of Alevis’ rights and freedoms was dependent on the good will of public officials.

On 19 August 2005 the applicants received a letter in reply rejecting their requests. Following receipt of the letter 1,919 people, including the applicants, lodged an application for judicial review of the rejection decision. On 4 July 2007 the Administrative Court dismissed the application on the grounds that the authorities’ refusal was in conformity with the legislation in force and that the applicants’ requests could only be satisfied by the enactment of new laws in this sphere. The applicants lodged an appeal on points of law which was dismissed by the Supreme Administrative Court.

Relying on Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion), the applicants complain that, in rejecting their claims for provision of a religious public service to Alevis, the State has failed to comply with its obligations. They maintain that the State has not discharged its duty of neutrality and impartiality with regard to religious beliefs. Relying on Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) taken in conjunction with Article 9, the applicants claim to be victims of discrimination based on their religion. In their view, such a practice is irreconcilable with the conception of a neutral State as established in the Court’s case-law.

Procedure

The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 31 August 2010. On 25 November 2014 the Chamber to which the case had been assigned relinquished jurisdiction in favour of the Grand Chamber.

Composition of the Court

The case will be heard by a Grand Chamber, composed as follows:

Dean Spielmann (Luxembourg), President,

Josep Casadevall (Andorra),
Guido Raimondi (Italy),
Mark Villiger (Liechtenstein),
Isabelle Berro (Monaco),
Işıl Karakaş (Turkey),
András Sajó (Hungary)
Ledi Bianku (Albania),
Julia Laffranque (Estonia),
Helen Keller (Switzerland),
André Potocki (France),
Paul Lemmens (Belgium),
Faris Vehabović (Bosnia and Herzegovina),
Robert Spano (Iceland),
Iulia Antoanella Motoc (Romania),
Jon Fridrik Kjølbro (Denmark),
Yonko Grozev (Bulgaria), judges,

Johannes Silvis (the Netherlands),
Helena Jäderblom (Sweden),
Branko Lubarda (Serbia),
Mirjana Lazarova Trajkovska (“The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”), substitute judges,

and also Johan Callewaert, Deputy Grand Chamber Registrar.

Representatives of the parties

Government

Harun Mert and Hacı Ali Açıkgül, Counsel,

Ahmet Metin Gökler, Ayça Onural, Sami Arslan Aşkın, Bekir Karaca, Mustafa Çiçek and Hikmet Yaman, Advisers.

Applicants

Namık Sofuoğlu and İştar Savaşir, Counsel,

İlyas Şahbaz, Serap Topçu, Fadime Kama, Jülide Sucuoğlu Gönen, Tülay Odabaş and Mehmet Aydin, Advisers.

Mr İzzettin Doğan, one of the applicants in the case, will also attend the hearing.

Press release ECHR 180 (2015) 03/06/2015

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