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Page last updated at 16:09 GMT, Friday, 19 December 2008

Secular Turks 'facing prejudice'

By Sarah Rainsford
BBC News, Istanbul

Woman with headscarf in Istanbul
There is more pressure on women to wear headscarves, the report says

A report in Turkey has highlighted "very worrying" evidence of increased discrimination against secular Turks.

The study, called "Being Different in Turkey", links this directly to the presence of the religious conservative AK Party in government.

It details widespread social pressure on non-devout Muslims to attend Friday prayers, fast during the month of Ramadan or wear a headscarf.

It was conducted by the Open Society Institute and Bosphorus University.

It suggests that a government policy of making appointments to local administrations on the basis of political and religious beliefs, rather than competence, is forcing non-devout Turks to change their habits in order to protect their business or their jobs.

The AK Party has its roots in Political Islam, but has always insisted its views have changed.

Last year, the party survived an attempt to close it down, as a threat to Turkey's strict secular system.

Social pressure

The study documents what many secular Turks have complained about in the years since the AK Party came to power.

Based on interviews with almost 5,000 secular Turks, Alevites and Christians in 12 cities, it concludes that religious conservatism is flourishing, breeding increasing intolerance of those outside the Sunni Muslim majority.

It claims that the appointment of AK Party devotees to local administrations, schools and hospitals is changing the social atmosphere in Turkey in what it calls a very worrying way.

The report cites page upon page of examples: non-religious nurses put on permanent night shift; landlords refusing to take female student tenants unless they wear a headscarf; secular civil servants bypassed for promotion.

It talks of increased social pressure to attend Friday prayers and fast during Ramadan, and documents the difficulty in many cities of obtaining licences to sell alcohol.

The report's authors accept that much of the Turkish heartland has always been socially conservative.

But they blame the AK Party for failing to promote tolerance for other groups' rights and freedoms while in government.

Instead - the report says - the government's practices have had quite the opposite effect.

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