Humanists UK challenges religious persecution in Turkey

30 September, 2020

Image copyright Mickey Bo.

Humanists UK has challenged discrimination against and the persecution of religion or belief minorities, in its latest intervention at the UN Human Rights Council. In particular, Humanists UK raised Turkey’s blasphemy laws, and its faith-based religious education system.

In a video intervention during the universal periodic review of Turkey, Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented:

‘We wish to raise concerns about the increasing normalisation of hate speech and discriminatory statements in the public discourse in Turkey. This is leading to discrimination towards religious or belief minorities and undermining long-held secular principles, as well as freedom of expression and social liberties.

We are concerned that such discriminatory attitudes are being perpetuated within Turkey’s education system, where religious education is predominantly taught from the perspective of Sunni Hanefi Islam. Such classes are compulsory and when students opt out, both they and their parents are required to reveal their religion or belief publicly. We ask the Turkish Ministry of Education to make faith-based religious education an elective rather than compulsory subject. We also recommend that the topic of evolution is restored to the school curriculum after its removal from textbooks in 2017.

‘Although freedom of expression is theoretically protected by the current constitution, it is increasingly undermined in practice. Article 216 of the penal code outlaws blasphemy, which is punishable by a prison sentence. There is also Government pressure to reform the constitution. We call on Turkey to instead repeal its blasphemy law, in order to protect freedom of religion or belief, and to prioritise investigating hate crimes towards religion or belief minorities.’

Last week, Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson made another intervention, focusing on the persecution of Uighurs in China.


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at or phone 020 7324 3072 or 020 3675 0959.

Read the intervention.

Watch the intervention.

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Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.