Turkey Arrests 20 Allegedly Linked to Malatya Murders


Suspects in Ergenekon network long sought in homicide case to be questioned.

ISTANBUL, March 18 (CDN) — In simultaneous operations in nine different provinces of Turkey, authorities yesterday arrested 20 people suspected of playing a role in the murder of three Christians in Malatya in 2007, according to local news reports.

Zekeriya Oz, chief prosecutor overseeing the investigation into a clandestine network known as Ergenekon allegedly aimed at destabilizing the government, ordered the arrests based on information that linked the suspects to both the network and to the Malatya murders, Turkish press reported after Istanbul Chief of Police Chief Huseyin Capkin announced the sweep at a press conference yesterday.

“This was an operation related to the Malatya Zirve publishing house murders,” Capkin said, according to online news agency Malatya Guncel. “They were just arrested. This is connected to the Zirve publishing house. That’s the framework.”

Those apprehended include Ruhi Abat, a Muslim theology professor from Malatya Inonu University, Mehmet Ulger, a retired commander of the Malatya Gendarmerie in service at the time of the murders, and other members of the military. Oz will question the suspects in Istanbul, according to reports.

Police also raided the guesthouse of the Izmir Gendarmerie, seizing computers and documents. News sources listed Malatya, Siirt, Mugla, Mersin and Izmir as some of the cities in which authorities conducted raids and arrests.

A plaintiff attorney in the Malatya murder case, Orhan Kemal Cengiz, told Compass that the names on the list of those arrested were suspects he and his colleagues have been trying to convince the Malatya prosecutor to pursue since the court received a tip in May 2008.

“They are all the usual suspects,” Cengiz said. “All their names were mentioned in the first informant letter. Unfortunately, despite all our efforts, we couldn’t find anyone to investigate these allegations.”

The letter was the first of many informant letters the Malatya court has received since it started hearing the case on Nov. 22, 2007. Penned by someone who identified himself by the pseudonym “Ali Arslan” but unsigned, the letter claimed that Ulger incited Emre Gunaydin, one of the suspects, to carry out the murders and that he communicated with Gunaydin through Abat and two gendarmerie officers, reported Turkish English daily Today’s Zaman.

Cengiz said that, though it was the duty of the Malatya prosecutor to pursue leads in the informant letter, the prosecutor deferred the investigation to the military court, which in turn refused to investigate, claiming that the name on the letter was fake and the letter was not signed.

“It was like a joke,” Cengiz said.

On April 18, 2007, two Turkish Christians, Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel, and German Christian Tilmann Geske, were bound, tortured and then murdered at the office of Zirve Publishing Co., a Christian publishing house in Malatya. The suspects, Salih Guler, Cuma Ozdemir, Hamit Ceker, and Abuzer Yildirim, were arrested while trying to escape the scene of the crime, as was alleged ringleader Gunaydin.

From the beginning of the court hearings, plaintiff lawyers have brought evidence to the court showing the five young suspects were connected to a wider plot to kill the three Christians as well as other key Christian leaders across Turkey. Known as the Cage Plan, the plot is believed to be part of the alleged Ergenekon “deep state” operation to destabilize the government.

The Cage Plan centers on a compact disc found in 2009 in the house of a retired naval officer. The plan, to be carried out by 41 naval officers, termed as “operations” the Malatya killings, the 2006 assassination of Catholic priest Andrea Santoro and the 2007 slaying of Hrant Dink, Armenian editor-in-chief of the weekly Agos.

Cengiz told Compass that new evidence in the Ergenekon case might have convinced Oz to pursue those detained yesterday, and he called the move “a very big step” in shedding light on the Malatya case. He and colleague Erdal Dogan said their efforts – especially a request they sent to Oz on Jan. 18, 2010 asking him to investigate the allegations that Ergenekon members were behind the Malatya murders – surely helped to move the process along.

“I believe our efforts had a very big influence on this,” Cengiz said. “We submitted a petition and requested this from Oz last year. He is acting with the Malatya prosecutor on this.”

At the request of the Istanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office, the Istanbul Police Department prepared a report last year revealing links between the Malatya murders and Ergenekon, according to Today’s Zaman. According to the report, Sevgi Erenerol, spokesperson for a bogus ultranationalist association known as the Turkish Orthodox Church, described foreign missionary activity as “spying” and “provoking.”

“A piece of evidence in the report was a conference on missionary activity given by Sevgi Erenerol … at the General Staff’s Strategic Research and Study Center,” reported Today’s Zaman.

Erenerol was arrested in connection with Ergenekon in 2008. Her suspected links with those thought to have masterminded the Zirve murders may have influenced yesterday’s arrests, Today’s Zaman reported.

She is also believed to be one of the key people behind false accusations against two members of Turkey’s Protestant Church, Hakan Tastan and Turan Topal, who were arrested in October 2006 for insulting Turkishness and Islam because they openly shared their faith.

After four years of legal battle, a judge finally acquitted the two Christians of insulting Turkey and its people by spreading Christianity, but not without slapping them with a hefty fine for a spurious charge. The two men are in the process of appealing the fine.

The Turkish Constitution grants all citizens the right to speak about their faith.

Plaintiff attorneys in the Malatya murders case said they believe yesterday’s arrests bring them closer to their requests that the Malatya murders case file be joined to that of the Ergenekon trial.

“From now on, we can predict it is very possible that our case will be sent to Istanbul soon and that these two cases will be merged,” said Cengiz.

The next Malatya hearing is scheduled for April 29.

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org

Christians in Turkey Face Harassment; Murder Trial Stalls


Departure of presiding judge in Malatya case could further delay justice, attorneys fear.

ISTANBUL, March 15 (CDN) — Though the horrific scale of the 2007 Malatya murders has not been repeated in Turkey’s Protestant church, a recent report shows harassment continues to be a daily problem for the country’s Christians and churches.

Discrimination, slander and attacks against churches were among the examples of ongoing harassment that the Turkish Association of Protestant Churches (TEK) recorded in 2010.

In an eight-page report published earlier this year, TEK’s Committee for Religious Freedom and Legal Affairs outlined problems Protestants face. Turkish laws and “negative attitudes of civil servants” continue to make it nearly impossible for non-Muslims to establish places of worship, the committee reported. Three churches faced legal problems last year regarding their buildings, according to the report.

Missionary activities are still considered a national threat despite the existence of Turkish laws guaranteeing citizens the freedom to propagate and teach their faith, and children are victims of discrimination at school, according to the report. Though the Religious Education General Directorate for Higher Education and Training Committee allows non-Muslim students to stay out of religious classes, parents have reported cases in which they were not able to take their children out of such
courses.

“After four years [since the Malatya murders], Turkey’s religious freedoms have not improved as desired,” said attorney Erdal Dogan. “Christians, Alevis [a Shiite sub-community] and people of other beliefs are still not protected by law. And people of other faiths apart from Muslims have no legal status. Since racism is still prevalent in the context of freedom, discrimination in its turn has become a fact of life.”   

About a third of Turks are estimated to be Alevis.

Turkey rose to 30th place in Open Doors’ 2011 World Watch List of nations in which persecution against Christians takes place, up from 35th place the previous year. The Christian support organization cited deteriorating conditions as the secular country applied some laws in discriminatory ways against Christians.

TEK estimates that there are up to 3,500 Protestant Christians in Turkey.

 

Malatya Trial Stalled

In the trial of the five primary suspects in the murder of three Christians in Malatya, plaintiff attorneys fear the departure of one of the three judges to a Supreme Court of Appeals post in Ankara could further stall the nearly four-year-old case.

The loss of Judge Eray Gurtekin, who had presided over the case since it began on Nov. 22, 2007, could threaten to set back the progress of the court that has been examining links between the killers and alleged masterminds, according to Dogan, a plaintiff attorney in the case. Gurtekin was appointed as a judge in the Supreme Court of Appeals in Turkey’s capital Ankara last month.

“In a three-member panel [of judges], the change of one is not really helpful,” said Dogan, “because just as the previous presiding judge had started to understand and pay close attention to the case file, a new judge came in his place. I hope he will catch on quickly.”

The new judge joined the Malatya hearings panel this month, and Dogan said there could be more changes in the panel.

The 12th Istanbul High Criminal Court is expected to hear the testimony of another witness on March 29, and the court is trying to locate two more witnesses in order to shed light on the Malatya murders.

On April 18, 2007, two Turkish Christians, Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel, and German Christian Tilmann Geske, were bound, tortured and then murdered at the office of Zirve Publishing Co., a Christian publishing house in Malatya. The suspects, Salih Guler, Cuma Ozdemir, Hamit Ceker, and Abuzer Yildirim, were arrested while trying to escape the scene of the crime, as was alleged ringleader Emre Gunaydin.

From the beginning of the court hearings, prosecuting lawyers have brought evidence to the court showing the five young suspects were connected to a wider plot to kill the three Christians as well as other key Christian leaders across Turkey. Known as the Cage Plan, the plot is believed to be part of the alleged Ergenekon “deep state” operation to destabilize the government.

The Cage Plan centers on a compact disc found in 2009 in the house of a retired naval officer. The plan, to be carried out by 41 naval officers, termed as “operations” the Malatya killings, the 2006 assassination of Catholic priest Andrea Santoro and the 2007 slaying of Hrant Dink, Armenian editor-in-chief of the weekly Agos.

Questioned by the judges, Varol Bulent Aral – suspected of being one of the people who planned the murders and linked the killers to the masterminds – said he wanted the court to find out who was supporting the Zirve Publishing Co. He added a cryptic remark to Tilmann Geske’s widow, Suzanne Geske, who continues to live in Malatya with her three children and regularly attends the murder hearings.

“I want to ask Suzanne, what business does a German have here?”

The judges finally threw Aral out of the courtroom for contempt of court when he told the judges: “You are in the clouds!”

Prosecuting lawyers still hope judges will join the Malatya case files to the Cage Plan case, which is being tried at an Istanbul court.

The threat of violence against Christians continues. Last week Turkish news sources reported that Istanbul police arrested two suspects, ages 17 and 18, accused of plotting to assassinate a priest on the European side of the city. The Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office is examining their case.

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org

Armenian Christian leader put to ‘Évin’ prison in Iran


Pastor Vahik Abrahamian, an Armenian Christian residing in Tehran, Iran, who was visiting a friend, upon his return to his home was arrested in Tehran by plainclothes security officers, reports FCNN. The manner in which he was arrested and the prolonged detention in Evin notorious prison, has created grave concern amongst the Iranian Christian community, particularly with family and friends.

"As per reports by FCNN correspondents and sources within the country, on Saturday 20th February 2010 (1 Esfand 1388) plainclothes security officers arrested 44 years old ‘Vahik Abrahamian’ , who is an Armenian Christian leader, as he was departing a friend’s house who was visiting Iran from Europe.

The manner in which Pastor Abrahamian was arrested is very unsettling and indeed ambiguous. As per received reports, 3 plainclothes security agents who were in a green Peugeot vehicle, swarmed upon Mr. & Mrs. Abrahamian as they were departing their friends house.

What is quite uncommon in any similar incident, one of the agents was filming the whole episode with a handheld camera. The agents showed an arrests warrant with permission to ‘shoot to kill’. After searching their vehicle and seizing all personal belongings, they set Mrs. Abarahmian free and took Pastor Vahik to Evin prison.

As per FCNN reports, wife and parents and extended family and friends of this Armenian Christian leader, are extremely concerned for the well being of the prisoner and are completely in state of shock. Mrs. Abrahamian has been unwilling or afraid to discuss the matter with anyone.

All Pastor Vahik’s family and friends vouch for his meek, humble and Godly character. All are unanimous that he was not only God fearing and law abiding citizen but was also very compassionate and sensitive particularly to the drug addicts and reached out to serve them. All are totally convinced that his character is beyond reproach and are hoping that this grave misunderstanding by the authorities will clear and he will be set free.

It’s noteworthy that Pastor Abrahamian had dual Dutch and Iranian citizenship, yet chose to live, work and serve in his native country Iran, staying close to aging mother and family.

As per obtained reports, there are many unanswered questions with regards to the circumstances leading to his arrest which is normally conducted in detaining known terrorists or political activists. The authorities have neither commented why this extraordinary measures were taken and nor why is he being held for such lengthy period. It’s also unclear who is holding this law abiding ordinary citizen and which authority has ordered his arrest! It seems that we have a long wait to hear from Islamic republic Juridical and legal authorities about reason of his arrest.

The received reports indicate that after elapse of over a month from his arrest, there is complete silence by Iranian Legal and juridical authorities and so far he has been denied appointment of a lawyer or visits by next of keen. Mother, Wife, brother and extended family are extremely concerned for his well being and are grief stricken with no clear and promising news.

At this time we would like to beseech all Christian community in Iran and overseas to fast and pray for his release and also pray for other Christians arrested in the last days and weeks in various cities in Iran. May God in His grace intervene in this situation and let’s hope that he will unite with his family bringing great joy and relief in the festive days of the Nowruz’ spring in Iran.

Report from the Christian Telegraph 

ARMENIA: TWO YEARS’ IMPRISONMENT FOR ORGANISING SHARING OF FAITH?


If two draft Laws which began passage through Armenia’s Parliament on 5 February are adopted, spreading one’s faith would be banned, Forum 18 News Service has learnt.

Those who organise campaigns to spread their faith would face up to two years’ imprisonment, while those who engage in spreading their faith would face up to one year’s imprisonment or a fine of more than eight years’ minimum wages.

Gaining legal status would require 1,000 adult members, while Christian communities which do not accept the doctrine of the Trinity would be barred from registering. “These proposed Laws contain violations of all human rights.”

Russian Orthodox priest Fr David Abrahamyan told Forum 18. Religious affairs official Vardan Astsatryan told Forum 18 the government backs the draft Laws “in general”. He declined to explain why the government has not involved the OSCE in preparation of the draft Laws.

Report from the Christian Telegraph

IRAN: CHRISTIAN COUPLE DIES FROM POLICE ATTACK


Hosts of house church succumb to injuries following raid; daughter still in custody.

ISTANBUL, August 6 (Compass Direct News) – An Iranian Christian couple in their 60s died last week from injuries sustained when secret police raided a house church service hosted at their house and severely beat them, a source told Compass.

Less than a week after Abbas Amiri’s funeral, his wife died from similar injuries and stress from her husband’s death, according to Farsi Christian News Network (FCNN).

Police beat and arrested Amiri on July 17, along with seven other men, six women and two minors who were attending the service, the source said. Amiri died in a hospital on July 30 from injuries sustained from the beating.

Amiri’s wife, Sakineh Rahnama, died on Sunday (Aug. 3) from stress-related causes, according to FCNN.

Secret police raided the house church meeting hosted by Amiri and his wife in Malek Shahr, just outside the central Iranian city of Isfahan. They beat and arrested all those in attendance, including the two minors and the hosting couple.

Violence against Amiri reportedly intensified when the policemen discovered that he had taken a pilgrimage to Mecca, one of the five pillars of Islam required of all devout Muslims, before he had become a Christian. He was also a veteran of the Iran-Iraq War, a strong source of Iranian national pride, so his conversion further infuriated police, according to FCNN.

All those arrested at the house meeting are reportedly still in custody, including Amiri’s daughter and the two minors.

Three days before his death, Amiri was moved to the Sharieti Hospital of Isfahan. Family members who saw him said his chest was severely bruised and believe that was the cause of his death, a source told Compass.

Amiri was buried the day after his death in a cemetery in his birthplace of Masjid-Soleiman, located near the Iran-Iraq border, on Thursday (July 31). Many friends and supporters attended the funeral, though security officials reportedly attempted to prevent their attendance.

Following Rahnama’s death on Sunday, secret police in Masjid-Soleiman put the Amiri family’s house under surveillance. They ordered the family not to have a memorial or funeral service for Rahnama and said they had to leave the city immediately.

Amiri’s son then yelled at the security officers, who proceeded to beat him, according to FCNN. Rahnama was buried on Monday (Aug 4).

Arrests and violence against Iranian Christians have intensified in recent weeks. Twelve Christians traveling to Armenia via Tehran were arrested on July 12 at the Kerman airport in south-central Iran. Two Christian converts have been jailed for two months in Shiraz, one of whom is diabetic and in critical condition.

In February the Iranian parliament proposed a draft penal code that demands the death penalty for leaving Islam. Under current Iranian law, “apostasy” is considered a capital offense, but punishment is left to the discretion of the judge.

The draft penal code is scheduled to be reviewed in the next parliamentary session.

Report from Compass Direct News

IRAN: JAILED CHRISTIAN IN CRITICAL CONDITION


Authorities Launch New Wave of Arrests, Violence in Past 10 Days

ISTANBUL, July 30 (Compass Direct News) – A diabetic Iranian Christian jailed for two months is in critical condition due to lack of medical treatment, even as new reports of arrests against Christians surfaced this week.

The Iranian government has ratcheted up pressure in the last two weeks on underground churches in what seems to be a concerted effort to hound Christians and discourage their meetings throughout the country, sources told Compass.

At the same time, friends of imprisoned Christians Mahmood Matin, 52, and Arash Bandari, 44, a diabetic, are eagerly waiting for a phone call from authorities this week that would secure their release even if it means paying bail. Both prisoners have become frail from more than two months in prison, but the condition of Bandari is critical.

Converts to Christianity, Matin and Bandari were arrested on May 15 on suspicion of “apostasy,” or leaving Islam.

To complicate matters, a draft bill of an “apostasy law,” which would bind judges to sentence to death Muslim converts to Christianity, makes their immediate release crucial, say experts.

After two months of solitary confinement at a secret police detention center known by its address, Sepah Street 100, located in the center of Shiraz, Matin and Bandari were placed in a cell together around July 15, sources told Compass. The absence of any medical treatment, however, has taken its toll on Bandari.

Matin, who secured a few minutes of time with his wife on July 22 in order to get toiletries, said that Bandari’s health was declining rapidly with the lack of treatment and proper care.

“He is severely ill; he’s not doing well,” confirmed a source.

Matin has lost much weight and is said to look weak, though he was not allowed to talk about his condition and treatment in the prison, where he has been held with Bandari since their arrest.

On July 22 a lawyer agreed to take up Matin’s case and ask for his release. It is not clear yet if Bandari will receive legal counsel from the same lawyer. Matin’s lawyer expressed concern about the length of time the two prisoners have been held without charges and said that the clock is ticking against them.

“They have to get out as soon as possible, or else the case will be heavier, and it will be more difficult to get them out,” a friend of the family told Compass. Experts on Iran explained that it is crucial for the prisoners to be released before they appear in court. Lower level police often arrest Christians to extort money from them and release them with no charges. But if a case goes to court, charges are pressed against the Christians, who are then at the mercy of religious judges.

“Once the case is decided and the court has made a decision, it would be hard for them to get out,” said a source. The apostasy bill under discussion, if passed, would mean certain death if Bandari and Matin were charged with apostasy.

Christians in Iran are fasting and praying in hopes that the two men will be freed soon.

“We don’t know, in the first place, why they have been kept so long, we don’t know what the charges are,” said one friend of the family.

The friend called for the churches to pray that any false accusations be lifted, “and for protection, because we don’t know exactly what’s happening inside. We don’t know how they’re being treated.”

Most other imprisoned Christians in Iran have been released with bail. Bandari and Matin are two of three Christians known to be still held in prison.

The third, Mohsen Radfar, was arrested while traveling to Tehran on July 12. His whereabouts and condition are unknown. Radfar, from the province of Kerman in central Iran, is a well-known film director in the region and has worked as a theater and cinema critic.

 

News Wave of Arrests

The same day Radfar was arrested, police got word that 12 Christians would be traveling to Armenia via Tehran and arrested them at the Kerman airport in south-central Iran as they were trying to leave.

Although the 12 Christians were freed the same night, sources reported that their houses were searched and that police confiscated all Christian materials.

In the past 10 days, Iran’s Christians have reported a wave of arrests in four cities. Christians attending house churches in Bandar Abbas on the southern coast, in Isfahan 334 kilometers (207 miles) south of Tehran, and in Sanandaj and Kermanshah on the Iraqi border were arrested. Sources told Compass that Christians in these cities were held anywhere from one day to a week by the government.

“So that means maybe the government has started a mission again against Christian activity,” said a source. “They’ve started a new strategy probably. Because it is not just an accident that all this is happening in different cities at the same time; they had worked on it before, and they planned to move against house churches.”

On Saturday (July 26), secret police raided a service in Isfahan. Among 16 Christians arrested were six women and two children under the age of 18. They are being held in an undisclosed location, reported Farsi Christian News Network.

During the raid, police beat the elderly couple hosting the meeting so severely that they were taken to the Sharieti Hospital with injuries.

Report from Compass Direct News