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Today’s attack on judges at Turkey’s highest administrative court cannot be justified by opposition to Turkey’s ban on headscarves, Human Rights Watch said today.

Judge Mustafa Yücel Özbilgin of the Second Chamber of the Council of State (administrative appeal court) was killed in the attack, and four other judges were wounded. The gunman, arrested near the scene, is reported to have carried out the attack “in revenge” for a controversial decision by the chamber in October 2005 that upheld the city governor’s refusal to promote a teacher seen wearing a headscarf while off-duty.

“We utterly condemn this attack on Turkey’s highest court – there is no justification for such a murder,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Turkey’s ban on headscarves clearly infringes upon women’s right to religious freedom, but such rights can never be legitimately defended through violent attacks against civilian authorities.”


Civil servants, students and staff at private and state universities and schools, medical staff and members of parliament are forbidden from wearing the tightly fitting headscarf on the grounds that it would be a breach of constitutional secularism. The ban dates back at least to the 1960s, but since 1997 the Turkish Army has required successive governments to implement it with increasing vigour.

In theory, the ban only applies to people on state premises or in state-controlled businesses, but recent court decisions have upheld penalties imposed on civil servants who wear the headscarf in their private life.

On October 26, 2005, the Second Chamber of the Council of State upheld a ruling by Ankara Administrative Court No. 6. It ruled that the Ankara governorate had been justified in refusing teacher Aytaç Kılınç’s promotion to the post of director of the Bayrak Nursery School, at Gölbaşı, near Ankara, because she wore a headscarf on her way to and from school. The Council of State made reference to the secular order imposed by the Turkish constitution and stated that education should be “kept at a distance from dogma and influences that run counter to science.”

Human Rights Watch opposes the headscarf ban, as well as enforced veiling, and considers both to be discriminatory infringements of women’s freedom of expression and religion, as well as of their right to education.

Opposition to the headscarf ban in Turkey has, for the most part, been mounted by resolutely non-violent individuals and civil society groups who have used the courts, the media and intergovernmental organizations to raise their concerns. However, certain violent groups and organizations have carried out attacks on civilians allegedly in the name of opposition to the headscarf ban.

In October 1990, professor Bahriye Üçok, an outspoken critic of the then-tolerant attitude shown by universities to students wearing the headscarf, was killed by a mailbomb. In 2001, professor Zekeriya Beyaz barely survived being stabbed by a male student during an argument over the headscarf issue in a classroom at Marmara University in Istanbul.

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