Christians suffer in Iran’s ‘free nation,’ says Open Doors USA


Iran’s president claimed his country is a genuine cradle of liberty. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in New York for the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly, reports MNN.

Ahmadinejad insisted that political opponents are free to demonstrate, refusing to acknowledge that opposition groups and Christians have been driven underground by a vicious government crackdown.

"When we discuss the subject of freedoms and liberty it has to be done on a comparative basis and to keep in mind that democracy, at the end of the day, means the rule of the majority, so the minority cannot rule," Ahmadinejad said.

President of Open Doors USA Carl Moeller says, "Any person that’s had any exposure to the realities of life in Iran would disagree with President Ahmadinejad."

Moeller says Ahmadinejad is the master of the big lie. "He’s a holocaust denier, for example. And it’s easy to deny something as long as you don’t have to [back it up with] evidence. In this case, it’s easy to say Iran is a free country because everybody who would dissent knows clearly that if they dissent, they would be sent to prison."

Iran is one of the most repressive places to be a Christian. It ranks second on Open Doors’ World Watch list of countries which persecute Christians. "We’ve talked, on this program, about those who have spent months in prison simply for converting to Christianity and suffered huge abuse because of it," says Moeller.

Despite this oppression, Moeller says many Iranians are turning to Christ. They’re responding to Christian radio and satellite television broadcasts. Some are reading about Christ on the Internet. Some young people are starting churches as a result.

Moeller says most Iranians are aware of it. "90 percent of Iranians are aware that Muslims are turning to faith in Jesus Christ and have first-hand knowledge of that. It’s an incredible statistic. And we see that the increase in persecution is a direct relationship with the growth of the church in Iran."

Report from the Christian Telegraph

New Evidence Stalls Murder Trial in Malatya, Turkey


Defense lawyers’ absence also prolongs case that court wants closed.

MALATYA, Turkey, April 21 (CDN) — On the eve of three-year commemorations of the murders of three Christians in southeast Turkey, defense lawyers’ absence and new evidence kept a Malatya court from concluding the case here on Thursday (April 15).

Two defense lawyers excused themselves from the hearing, rendering the judges unable to issue a verdict to the five defendants charged with the murders of three Christians in Malatya on April 18, 2007. Turkish Christians Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel and German Christian Tilmann Geske, who worked at a publishing house that distributed Christian material in this southeastern Turkish city, were found murdered three years ago.

At Thursday’s hearing, prosecuting lawyers presented a 28-page detailed request that the Malatya case be joined to a plot called Cage Plan, believed to be part of Ergenekon, a “deep state” operation to destabilize the government led by a cabal of retired generals, politicians and other key figures.

The Cage Plan centers on a compact disc found a year ago in the house of a retired naval officer. The plan, to be carried out by 41 named naval officers, termed as “operations” the murders of the three Christians in Malatya, the 2006 assassination of Catholic priest Andreas Santoro and the 2007 slaying of Hrant Dink, Armenian editor-in-chief of the weekly Agos. The aim of the Cage Plan was to destabilize the government by showing its inability to protect Turkey’s minority groups.

Last week newspapers reported that the Cage Plan, aimed at Turkey’s non-Muslim minorities, not only contained a list of names of Protestant Christians who would be targeted, but also named some of their children.

Judges will announce a decision on whether to combine the Malatya murders with the Cage Plan at the next hearing, scheduled for May 14. Hearings for the Cage Plan are expected to begin on June 15.

“If you ask me, unfortunately at this exact moment we are exactly where we started,” said prosecuting lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz. “I’m not talking about public awareness. In terms of public awareness, of course our contribution is something substantial. But in terms of evidence and exposing the real network, we couldn’t get anywhere.”

Judges also decided to call a new witness in May. Burak Dogru, a convict serving time in Sivas, wrote a letter to the court accusing suspect Varol Bulent Aral of organizing the murders and offering him money to kill the three Christians.

“When I refused the offer, he told me to forget what I knew, otherwise I would not see the sunlight again,” he wrote in his letter, reported the Hurriyet Daily News.

In the last court hearing two months ago, the court rejected the prosecuting attorney team’s appeal that the Malatya murders be joined to the Ergenekon file, despite a police report showing links between the two cases.

Cengiz said he believes that the Malatya prosecutor is missing an opportunity to collect more evidence that could connect the Malatya murders to the Ergenekon case.

“The Ergenekon prosecutor is drowning in the files,” said Cengiz. “This [Malatya] prosecutor has enough time and resources because he is in a position to have direct contact with first-hand evidence. But I think he is intimidated and is just trying to get rid of the case as soon as possible. This case is a hot potato for the prosecutor, and he just wants to throw it away as soon as possible.”

In February’s hearing, prosecutors detailed accusations against the five young men accused of slaughtering the Christians – Emre Gunaydin, Salih Gürler, Cuma Ozdemir, Hamit Ceker and Abuzer Yildirim – and demanded three consecutive life sentences for each of them if convicted. The five men are charged with murder, being part of a terrorist organization, holding citizens against their will and stealing.

“We may not have proved that this case is linked to Ergenekon and other shadowy networks,” said Cengiz. “But I think we convinced everyone in Turkey that this murder was not committed by [just five men]. We may not convict them, the network, before the court, but we already convicted them in the eyes of the public. I wish, of course, that we could also do that before the law. But at this stage this evidence and this file doesn’t seem to me capable of doing this.”

Graveyard Memorials

In churches and at various memorial services on Sunday (April 18), Christians around Turkey commemorated the deaths of the three slain men.

Scores of people came to the graves of Aydin in Izmir, Tilmann in Malatya and Yuksel in Elazig, an hour northeast of Malatya, to commemorate the deaths. The Malatya murders have become a milestone for the Turkish church, which is also eager for closure on the murder case and justice for those responsible.

“For the church, it’s another one of those events in life which we don’t understand but entrust it to the hands of a loving God who we believe in,” said Zekai Tanyar, chairman of the Association of Protestant Churches in Turkey. “I think one aspect is that the church in Turkey said this does not pull us away from the Lord; we continue to follow Him. It’s probably brought in sort of a depth in some ways, and it has certainly brought in awareness from the worldwide church, and therefore more prayer for Turkey.”

Tanyar said that while churches want to see closure for the sake of the families who lost their loved ones, they also want “the truth, the real culprits and mindsets behind the killings to be revealed somehow. So in a sense, our prayer is that God who is the worker of miracles will work these two contradictory expectations out; a closure and an exposure at the same time.”

Report from Compass Direct News 

Authorities in Laos Jail, Threaten to Kill Christians


Local official tells pastor to renounce faith; church member expelled, children denied schooling.

LOS ANGELES, September 11 (CDN) — Authorities in Laos last week jailed a church leader in Savannakhet Province for embracing Christianity and threatened to expel him unless he renounces his faith – and kill him if his arrest is made public, according to a human rights organization.

Officials from Liansai village, from Saybouthong sub-district and from Ad-Sapangthong district on Sept. 3 arrested Thao Oun, an elder at Boukham Church, at his home and forced him at gunpoint to the Saybounthong sub‐district office, according to Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF). The organization said the officials turned him over to the chief of police of Saybouthong sub‐district, Thao Somphet, who detained, interrogated, and terrorized the Christian for nearly six hours.

Oun was charged with bringing destruction to the Lao nation and government by embracing Christianity, which the officials consider a “foreign religion to be abhorred,” according to HRWLRF.

The chief of police demanded that Oun immediately renounce Christianity or face expulsion from the village. He “further threatened Thao Oun that if word of his arrest and interrogation get out to the international community, he will be put to death,” according to HRWLRF. The organization decided to publicize the mistreatment, a spokesman told Compass, citing international exposure as the most effective way of preventing Lao officials from carrying out threats.

The sub-district chief of police also told Oun that his harsh treatment would end “only after the death of all believers in Boukham Church,” according to HRWLRF.

To further pressure Boukham Church, Liansai village officials and security forces along with Saybouthong sub‐district police on Saturday (Sept. 5) arrested Thao Aom, who became a Christian 10 months ago. He also was interrogated and intimidated at Saybouthong sub‐district police headquarters, with authorities telling him, “You have believed in a foreign religion, so you must sign an affidavit to renounce Christianity – if you do not recant, you must vacate the village.”

HRWLRF reported that after three hours of police interrogation, Aom still refused to sign the affidavit renouncing his faith. He was expelled from the village.

He has sought refuge in a village about six kilometers (nearly four miles) away, where he had previously lived, according to HRWLRF.

On Sunday (Sept. 6) at 6 a.m., Palan district police authorities joined the officers from Saybouthong sub‐district, in Ad‐Sapangthong district, to surround the Boukham Church worship site in Saisomboon village – blocking church members from entering for Sunday morning worship.

Members of Boukham Church rotate worship sites among three locations, according to HRWLRF: in Liansai village in Saybounthong sub‐district of Ad‐Sapangthong district; in Boukham village in Ad‐Sapangthong district; and in Saisomboon village in Ad‐Sapangthong district. Elder Oun lives in Liansai village, where he leads the worship service when Boukham Church meets there.

To punish Boukham Church members for following Christ, Lao officials have denied schooling to 10 of their children and cut off access to water at village wells, according to HRWLRF. They have also deprived all area Christians of protection and rights and threatened to deny public medical care for Christians who get sick or injured.

Laos is a Communist country that is 1.5 percent Christian and 67 percent Buddhist, with the remainder unspecified.

The actions against Boukham church violate the Lao Constitution as well as the 2004 Law on Criminal Procedure, the 2006 Law on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of Children and the 2005 Penal Law, according to the organization. The officials who arrested Oun and Aom have violated Article 5 of the Law on Criminal Procedure, which prohibits the arrest, detention or building search without an order from a public prosecutor or from a people’s court, according to HRWLRF.

“Any individual who arrests, detains or conducts any search of buildings or persons in contravention of the laws shall be subject to criminal proceedings and shall be criminally liable,” the law states, according to HRWLRF.

“In addition to violating the Lao Constitution that guarantees religious rights of an individual Lao person, the arrest of Thao Oun by gunpoint was clearly an abuse of authority, and the officials should be punished for this criminal act,” HRWLRF said in a statement. “Article 154 of Penal Law stipulates, ‘Any civil servant engaging in the intentional excessive use of the authority provided by law, thereby [adversely] affecting the interests of the state or society or the rights and interests of citizens, shall be punished by three months to three years of imprisonment and shall be fined from 500,000 kip to 5 million kip [US$60 to US$600].”

The law further states that if such abuses of authority are committed with the use of force, weapons, torture, indecent words or acts affecting the honor and reputation of the victim, the offender is to be punished by three to five years of imprisonment and fined from 2 million kip to 7 million kip (US$240 to US$840).

The denial of education for school‐age children on the basis of religious affiliation violates Article 3 (5) of the Law on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of Children, the organization asserted. Article 6 further states, “All children are equal in all aspects without discrimination of any kind in respect of gender, race, ethnicity, language, beliefs, religion, physical state and socio‐economic status of their family.”

Last year officials in Boukham village detained three Christians from the church – Pastor Sombong Supatto, Boot Chanthaleuxay and Khamvan Chanthaleuxay – for several weeks before releasing them on Oct. 16. Authorities initially arrested Pastor Supatto and four others on July 20, storming their house church and ordering the 63 Christians present to cease worshiping or face prison for “believing in and worshiping God.”

Police targeted the church because it was not officially registered. Such registration comes with strict limitations on church activities, so many Christians avoid doing so.

Report from Compass Direct News 

TURKEY: ‘INSULTING TURKISHNESS’ CASE PROCEEDS UNDER REVISED LAW


Ministry of Justice decision suggests spreading Christianity may be unlawful in Turkey.

ISTANBUL, March 20 (Compass Direct News) – Turkey’s decision last month to try two Christians under a revised version of a controversial law for “insulting Turkishness” because they spoke about their faith came as a blow to the country’s record of freedom of speech and religion.

A Silivri court on Feb. 24 received the go-ahead from the Ministry of Justice to try Christians Turan Topal and Hakan Tastan under the revised Article 301 – a law that has sparked outrage among proponents of free speech as journalists, writers, activists and lawyers have been tried under it. The court had sent the case to the Ministry of Justice after the government on May 8, 2008 put into effect a series of changes – which critics have called “cosmetic” – to the law.

The justice ministry decision came as a surprise to Topal and Tastan and their lawyer, as missionary activities are not illegal in Turkey. Defense lawyer Haydar Polat said no concrete evidence of insulting Turkey or Islam has emerged since the case first opened two years ago.

“The trial will continue from where it left off – to be honest, we thought they wouldn’t give permission [for the case to continue],” said Polat, “because there was no persuasive evidence of ‘degrading Turkishness and Islam’ in the case file.”

A Ministry of Justice statement claimed that approval to try the case came in response to the original statement by three young men – Fatih Kose, Alper Eksi and Oguz Yilmaz – that Topal and Tastan were conducting missionary activities in an effort to show that Islam was a primitive and fictitious religion that results in terrorism, and to portray Turks as a “cursed people.”

Prosecutors have yet to produce any evidence indicating the defendants described Islam in these terms, and Polat said Turkey’s constitution grants all citizens freedom to choose, be educated in and communicate their religion, making missionary activities legal.

“This is the point that really needs to be understood,” said Polat. “In Turkey, constitutionally speaking it is not a crime to be a Christian or to disseminate the Christian faith. However, in reality there have been problems.”

The lawyer contended that prosecuting lawyers have given political dimensions to the case by rendering baseless accusations in a nationalistic light.

“From their point of view, missionary activity carried out by missionaries of imperialistic countries is harmful for Turkish culture and the country overall,” Polat said.

Tastan said that although he has always been confident that he and Topal will be acquitted, the decision of the Ministry of Justice to try them under Article 301 left him deeply disappointed in his own country.

“After this last hearing, I realized that I didn’t feel as comfortable as I had been in the past,” Tastan told Compass. “I believed that surely the Ministry of Justice would never make the decision they did.”

Tastan said he was uneasy that his country would deem his Christian faith as insulting to the very Turkishness in which he takes pride.

“This is the source of my uneasiness: I love this country so much, this country’s people, that as a loving Turk who is a Christian to be tried for insulting Turkey has really cut me up,” said Tastan. “Because I love this nation, I’ve never said anything against it. That I’m a Christian, yes, I say that and I will continue to do so. But I think they are trying to paint the image that we insult, dislike and hate Turks. This really makes me sad and heartsick.”

If nothing else, Tastan said, the trial has provided an opportunity for Turkish Christians to show God’s love and also make themselves known to their compatriots. He called the ministerial decision duplicitous.

“A government that talks the European Union talk, claims to respect freedom, democracy, and accept everyone, yet rejects me even though I’m a Turkish citizen who is officially a Christian on his ID card, has made me sad,” he said. “That’s why I’m disappointed.”

 

No-Shows

At the time of their arrests, Topal and Tastan were volunteers with The Bible Research Center, which last week acquired official association status and is now called “The Society for Propagating Knowledge of the Bible.” In the last court hearing, prosecutors demanded that further inquiries be conducted into the nature of the association since the defendants used their contact lists to reach people interested in Christianity.

“Because they think like this, they believe that the Bible center is an important unit to the missionary activities,” said Polat. “And they allege that those working at this center are also guilty.”

The court has yet to decide whether police can investigate the Christian association.

Polat and the defendants said they believe that as no evidence has been presented, the case should come to a conclusion at the next hearing on May 28.

“From a legal standpoint, we hope that they will acquit us, that it will be obvious that there is no proof,” said Tastan. “There have only been allegations … none of the witnesses have accused us in court. I’m not a legal expert, but I believe that if there is no proof and no evidence of ‘insulting,’ then we should be set free.”

The initial charges prepared by the Silivri state prosecutor against Tastan and Topal were based on “a warning telephone call to the gendarme” claiming that Christian missionaries were trying to form illegal groups in local schools and insulting Turkishness, the military and Islam.

Despite a court summons sent to the Silivri and Istanbul gendarme headquarters requesting six gendarme soldiers to testify as prosecution witnesses, none have stepped forward to do so. At a June 24, 2008 hearing, two witnesses for the prosecution declared they did not know the defendants and had never seen them before facing them in the courtroom. Several witnesses – including one of the original complainants, Kose – have failed to show up on various trial dates.

“We believe the case has arrived to a concluding stage, because all evidence has been collected and the witnesses have been heard,” Polat said. “We believe the accused will be dismissed. The inverse would surprise us.”

Polat underlined that while the case shows that human rights violations in Turkey are still a “serious problem,” it is also true that Turkey’s desire to join the European Union has brought sincere efforts to improve democratic processes. He attested, however, that establishing a true democracy can be a long process that requires sacrifices.

“It is my conviction that there is no other way for people to believe in and establish democracy than through struggle,” he said.

Tastan added that he sees hope that the notion that being “Turkish” means being Muslim is breaking. Due to exposure to media coverage of the murder trial of the April 18, 2007 slaughter of three Christians in Malatya, he said, Turks are becoming aware that there are fellow citizens who are Christians and are even dying for their Lord.

“This makes me happy, because it means freedom for the Turkish Christians that come after us,” said Tastan. “At least they won’t experience these injustices. I believe we will accomplish this.”

For the time being, though, the Ministry of Justice’s decision that Tastan and Topal can be tried under the revised Article 301 law appears to contribute to the belief that to promulgate a non-Islamic faith in Turkey is tantamount to treason. As Turkish online human rights magazine Bianet headlined its coverage of the decision, “Ministerial Edict: You Can Be a Christian But Do Not Tell Anyone!”  

Report from Compass Direct News