Jehovah’s Witnesses have been present in Turkey since 1931. They experienced religious persecution until the late 1980’s. In subsequent years, the government gradually relaxed its stance and allowed the Witnesses to worship but refused their applications for legal registration. The situation changed in July 2007, when Jehovah’s Witnesses obtained favorable decisions in Turkish courts and were officially granted legal registration. Today the Witnesses are able to meet for worship and carry out their religious activity with a measure of freedom.
Nevertheless, the Turkish government does not recognize the right of conscientious objection to military service. For many years, conscientious objectors who are Jehovah’s Witnesses have faced repeated military call-ups, prosecutions, burdensome fines, and imprisonment. Since 2011, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has issued three judgments in favor of the Witnesses, and in 2012, the UN Human Rights Committee released a favorable decision on this issue. However, Turkey continues to prosecute young Witness men who refuse military service.
In 2003, Turkey modified its zoning law to allow non-Muslim minorities to build and own places of worship. In practice, however, municipal authorities and domestic courts routinely refuse to grant “place of worship” status to Kingdom Halls of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Two cases on this issue are pending with the ECHR.