Grand Chamber Judgment in Izzettin Doğan and Others v. Turkey: More Than a Typical Religious Discrimination Case

This guest post was written by Dr. Mine Yildirim (*)

On 26 April 2016, the Grand Chamber held, by 12 votes to 5, that there had been a violation of Article 9 ECHR, and, by 16 votes to 1, that there had been a violation of Article 14 taken in conjunction with Article 9 ECHR in the case of Izzettin Doğan and Others v. Turkey.

Relying on Article 9, taken alone and in conjunction with Article 14, the applicants complained that their right to manifest their religion had not been adequately protected in domestic law. It is important to note that their complaints are based both on their claims for public religious services and recognition of their cemevis (Alevi places of worship) as places of worship. They complained of the refusal of their requests seeking, among others, to obtain for the Alevi faith followers the same religious public service provided exclusively to the majority of citizens, who adhere to the Sunni branch of Islam. The applicants maintained that this refusal implied an assessment of their faith on the part of the national authorities, in breach of the State’s duty of neutrality and impartiality with regard to religious beliefs. They also contended that their request for the recognition of cemevis was refused. They further alleged that they had been the victims of discrimination on grounds of their religion, as they had received less favorable treatment than followers of the Sunni branch of Islam in a comparable situation, without any objective and reasonable justification.
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Face veils in Strasbourg (bis): the Belgian cases

By Eva Brems

In the Grand Chamber judgment of SAS v France (2014) the European Court of Human Rights held that France’s ban on face covering in public could be justified under article 9 ECHR as a proportionate measure for the aim of guaranteeing ‘le vivre ensemble’ (living together). Given the storm of protest that this judgment raised among human rights scholars and activists, it may be of interest to note that the second section of the Court recently communicated two applications against the Belgian face covering ban. Indeed, about one year after France adopted its ban, Belgium did the same. Belgium and France are the only two countries that have adopted a general ban on face covering in public (local or regional bans exist in the Netherlands, Spain, Italy and Switzerland). In Belgium, the nationwide ban was preceded by municipal bans, that continue to be enforced alongside the criminal ban.

While it is unlikely that the Court would overrule a recent and unanimous Grand Chamber judgment, it is not excluded that it might take this opportunity to explain and possibly nuance some of the statements it made in SAS.

The Human Rights Centre of Ghent University submitted a third party intervention in one of the Belgian cases.

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Ebrahimian v France: headscarf ban upheld for entire public sector

By Eva Brems

On 26 November, the Court added a new chapter to its ‘headscarf’ jurisprudence, upholding the non-renewal of a contract in a public hospital on the ground of the applicant’s refusal to take off her headscarf.

The case in brief

15 years ago, in December 2000, the applicant, who had been working for 15 months with a temporary contract as a social assistant in the psychiatric wing of a public hospital in the Paris area, was informed that her contract would not be renewed. This was a disciplinary measure as a result of her refusing to stop wearing an Islamic headscarf, which had given rise to complaints from both patients and colleagues. Continue reading

New ECSR decision on conscience-based refusals protects women’s right to access abortion

Guest post by Katrine Thomasen, Legal Adviser for Europe, Center for Reproductive Rights. The Center for Reproductive Rights together with the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education (RFSU) submitted joint observations to the ECSR regarding the complaint.

The European Committee of Social Rights (Committee) recently rejected a complaint filed by the Federation of Catholic Families in Europe (FAFCE) against Sweden that claimed health professionals are entitled to deny women legal abortion services based on claims of personal conscience. In dismissing each one of FAFCE’s claims, the Committee reaffirmed women’s right to access reproductive health services and upheld Sweden’s robust legal and policy framework that protects these rights. The decision reinforces previous jurisprudence from the European Court of Human Rights that women’s access to reproductive health care may not be jeopardized by health care professionals’ personal refusals to provide relevant services.

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Karaahmed v. Bulgaria: The (In)Visible Racial and Religious Motivation of Violence

By Lourdes Peroni

Karaahmed v. Bulgaria, a case recently decided at Strasbourg, concerned incidents arising from a demonstration by followers of “Ataka,” a political party known for its views against Islam and its adherents. The place of the demonstration: in front of the Banya Bashi Mosque in Sofia. The time: during Friday prayers. The manner: carrying flags featuring slogans such as “Let’s get Bulgaria back;” shouting insults at the worshippers such as “Turkish stooges”, “filthy terrorists,” “scum” and “Your feet stink! That is why you wash them!;” pelting them with eggs and stones; cutting a Turkish fez with a pocket knife while saying “Can you hear me? We shall now show you what will happen to each one of you!” and setting fire to prayer rugs.

The Court declared the Article 3 complaint, either alone or in conjunction with Article 14, inadmissible but found a violation of Article 9. In this post, I offer some preliminary thoughts on the inability of the Article 9 analysis to make visible what the events were really about at their heart.

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Religious signs in public schools: Belgian Council of State shows judicial bravery

Co-authored by Yousra Benfquih* and Saïla Ouald Chaib**

As in many other countries in Europe, the wearing of religious signs has been the topic of heated debate in Belgium. This has been the case for public servants, teachers, employees in private firms and the wearing of religious signs by pupils in school. It is the latter issue that was the subject of two recent judgments of the Belgian Council of State (Conseil d’Etat, Belgium’s highest administrative court), judgments that might prove to mark a watershed in the Belgian discourse on headscarf bans, freedom of religion and the right to education of pupils. (The judgments are in Dutch and can be found here and here)[1] The judgments are furthermore interesting because of their inclusive comprehension of neutrality through systematic reference to the case law of the European Court of Human Rights. This post will start by briefly shedding light on the structure of the Belgian education system and the implementation of a ban on religious signs in Flanders. We will subsequently highlight the crucial parts of the judgments of the Council of State (hereafter ‘the Council’) and conclude with some reflections.

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Mansur Yalçın v. Turkey: religious education and the (easy) way out

This guest post was written by Yousra Benfquih, FWO aspirant, PhD Fellow Research Foundation Flanders at the University of Antwerp.

In the case of Mansur Yalçın v. Turkey, 14 Turkish nationals living in Istanbul who are adherents of the Alevi faith, complained before the Court that the way in which the religion and ethics class – a compulsory subject in primary and secondary public education under article 24 of the Turkish Constitution – was taught, violated Article 2 of Protocol No. 1. In this connection, they moreover put forward a violation of Articles 9 and 14 of the Convention. Continue reading