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Turkish Atheism Association starts petition calling for 'equal treatment'

Group calls for the removal of the automatic registration of Turkish children as Muslim at birth
Men rest near the New mosque in Istanbul on a day after Turkey's general election (AFP)

A Turkish atheist organisation has launched a petition calling for "equal treatment" under the law.

“We want politicians to restrain themselves when tempted to make discriminatory statements starting with ‘even the atheists'," read the petition, started by the Atheism Association.

“We want equal treatment before the law. We do not want to be treated as though we have ‘insulted religious values’ when we express our faithlessness.”

The petition, which aims to get 5,000 signatures, called for the removal of the automatic registration of Turkish children as "Muslim" at birth and for the removal of the religious affiliation category on Turkish identity cards.

They also called to be allowed to take part in official meetings with Turkey’s non-Muslim communities.

The Atheist Association was founded in Istanbul in 2014 and claims to be the first of its kind in any Muslim-majority country.

In March, a court ruled to block the association’s website, citing Article 216 of the Turkish Penal Law, which forbids “provoking the people for hate and enmity or degrading them.”

Every Wednesday, the group delivers free soup to the homeless, in imitation of similar campaigns by religious groups.

Though Turkey is officially a secular country, few Turks would identify as an atheist, with most such people traditionally confined to far-left movements.

According to a 2010 Eurobarometer poll, 94% of Turks said that they believed in God, while 1% said they did not.

Aydin Turk, founder of the Ateizm.org forum, wrote that self-declared atheists in Turkey were still primarily online, but that they were becoming more and more visible.

"Atheism is alive and present in Turkey," he said, writing for the Turkish Atheist blog. "But its presence is mostly felt on the internet and the social media. Occasionally you will see intellectuals on TV declaring their atheism, or writing about it in their columns in the newspapers and journals, but most Turkish atheists are closet atheists.

"Coming out as an atheist is still not advised in Turkey for most people, but depending on their social circle, and the environment they live in, a lot of atheists, especially the ones that live in large cities such as Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir feel secure about coming out and many indeed came out."