EGMR: Forthcoming Grand Chamber judgment concerning the authorities’ refusal to provide a religious public service to the applicants, followers of the Alevi faith

The European Court of Human Rights will be delivering a Grand Chamber judgment in the case of İzzettin Doğan and Others v. Turkey (application no. 62649/10) at a public hearing on 26 April 2016 at 11.30 a.m. in the Human Rights Building, Strasbourg. The case concerns the domestic authorities’ refusal to provide the applicants, followers of the Alevi faith, with the religious public service hitherto provided exclusively, in the applicants’ assertion, to citizens adhering to the Sunni understanding of Islam.

Principal facts and complaints

The applicants are 203 Turkish nationals who are followers of the Alevi faith. On 22 June 2005 they submitted a petition to the Prime Minister complaining that the Religious Affairs Department (RAD) confined its activities to a single school of Islamic thought while disregarding all other faiths, including the Alevi faith. They argued that their rights had been infringed, that their places of worship (cemevis) were not recognised and that numerous obstacles prevented them from being built, that no provision was made in the budget for running the cemevis and that the exercise of Alevis’ rights and freedoms was subject to the good will of public officials. The applicants requested, in particular, that the services connected with the practice of the Alevi faith constitute a public service, that cemevis be granted the status of places of worship, that Alevi religious leaders be recruited as civil servants and that special provision be made in the budget for the Alevi community.

In a letter of 19 August 2005 the Prime Minister’s public relations department refused the applicants’ requests, stating that the RAD’s services were general and supra-denominational in nature and were available to everyone on an equal footing; that it was impossible to confer the status of places of worship on the cemevis; that civil servants were recruited on the basis of nationality and that no privileges could be granted to a group of persons on the basis of their faith or beliefs; and that it was impossible to make provision in the budget for services not provided for in the Constitution or by law. Following that reply, 1,919 followers of the Alevi faith, including the applicants, lodged an application for judicial review with the Ankara Administrative Court. On 4 July 2007 the Administrative Court dismissed the application, ruling that the refusal by the administrative authorities had been in conformity with the legislation in force. The applicants lodged an appeal on points of law with the Supreme Administrative Court, which dismissed the appeal on 2 February 2010.

Relying on Article 9 (right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion) of the European Convention on Human Rights, the applicants complain about the refusal of their requests seeking to obtain for the followers of the Alevi faith, to which they belong, the same religious public service hitherto provided exclusively to citizens adhering to the Sunni branch of Islam. They maintain that this refusal implies an assessment of their faith on the part of the authorities, in breach of the State’s duty of neutrality and impartiality with regard to religious beliefs Relying on Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) taken in conjunction with Article 9 of the Convention, the applicants claim to be victims of discrimination on grounds of their religion.

Procedure

The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 31 August 2010. On 25 November 2014 the Chamber relinquished jurisdiction in favour of the Grand Chamber. A hearing was held on 3 June 2015.

Press release ECHR 135 (2016) 19/04/2016

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