Turkish atheism association to shut down due to pressure

Turkey’s first atheist non-governmental organisation is preparing to dissolve itself after being targeted by pro-government media and due to pressure on its members, Voice of America Turkish reported.

The Atheism Association was founded in 2014 and has 170 members. Only 12 of them attended the association’s general board meeting on Sunday after the Islamist newspaper Yeni Akit gave details of the meeting beforehand and called, Barbaros Şansal, Turkish fashion designer and one of the members of the organisation, an enemy of Turkey and a person who insults Islam.

Şansal was expelled from Cyprus in 2016 and attacked by a mob on the steps of a passenger plane as he arrived at Istanbul airport after he posted a video on New Years Eve complaining about the government’s crackdown on journalists, sexual harassment against children, corruption, and rising extremism. “Drown in your shit, Turkey,” Şansal said in the video. Şansal was later arrested and imprisoned for two months.

Zeynep Ayça, the president of the Atheism Association said their members had stopped sending their membership fees and the financial burden of the organisation had to be shouldered by a few people. 

Şanar Atik, one of the board members of the association said he had been prosecuted for insulting religious values and sentenced to six months in prison, which was later turned into a fine. Atik was also prosecuted for insulting the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and sentenced to 14 months in prison.

“I cannot work in the public sector anymore. I don’t have a job. Under these circumstances people inevitably do not want to be seen related to our association,” Atik said. 

The senior members of the organisation also said that, though the number of atheists in Turkey was on the rise due to religious pressure and the failure of the rule of law in the country, there were not enough courageous atheists who could take the risk of working for the organisation.