Lawyer Calls Turkish Christians’ Trial a ‘Scandal’


Evidence still absent in case for ‘insulting Turkishness and Islam.’

SILIVRI, Turkey, October 16 (CDN) — After three prosecution witnesses testified yesterday that they didn’t even know two Christians on trial for “insulting Turkishness and Islam,” a defense lawyer called the trial a “scandal.”

Speaking after yesterday’s hearing in the drawn-out trial, defense attorney Haydar Polat said the case’s initial acceptance by a state prosecutor in northwestern Turkey was based only on a written accusation from the local gendarmerie headquarters unaccompanied by any documentation.

“It’s a scandal,” Polat said. “It was a plot, a planned one, but a very unsuccessful plot, as there is no evidence.”

Turkish Christians Hakan Tastan and Turan Topal were arrested in October 2006; after a two-day investigation they were charged with allegedly slandering Turkishness and Islam while talking about their faith with three young men in Silivri, an hour’s drive west of Istanbul.

Even the three prosecution witnesses who appeared to testify at Thursday’s (Oct. 15) hearing failed to produce any evidence whatsoever against Tastan and Topal, who could be jailed for up to two years if convicted on three separate charges.

Yesterday’s three witnesses, all employed as office personnel for various court departments in Istanbul, testified that they had never met or heard of the two Christians on trial. The two court employees who had requested New Testaments testified that they had initiated the request themselves.

The first witness, a bailiff in a Petty Offenses Court in Istanbul for the past 28 years, declared he did not know the defendants or anyone else in the courtroom.

But he admitted that he had responded to a newspaper ad about 10 years ago to request a free New Testament. After telephoning the number to give his address, he said, the book arrived in the mail and is still in his home.

He also said he had never heard of the church mentioned in the indictment, although he had once gone to a wedding in a church in Istanbul’s Balikpazari district, where a large Armenian Orthodox church is located.

“This is the extent of what I know about this subject,” he concluded.

Fidgeting nervously, a second witness stated, “I am not at all acquainted with the defendants, nor do I know any of these participants. I was not a witness to any one of the matters in the indictment. I just go back and forth to my work at the Istanbul State Prosecutors’ office.”

The third person to testify reiterated that he also had no acquaintance with the defendants or anyone in the courtroom. But he stated under questioning that he had entered a website on the Internet some five or six years ago that offered a free New Testament.

“I don’t know or remember the website’s name or contents,” the witness said, “but after checking the box I was asked for some of my identity details, birth date, job, cell phone – I don’t remember exactly what.”

Noting that many shops and markets asked for the same kind of information, the witness said, “I don’t see any harm in that,” adding that he would not be an open person if he tried to hide all his personal details.

For the next hearing set for Jan. 28, 2010, the court has repeated its summons to three more prosecution witnesses who failed to appear yesterday: a woman employed in Istanbul’s security police headquarters and two armed forces personnel whose whereabouts had not yet been confirmed by the population bureau.

Case ‘Demands Acquittal’

Polat said after the hearing that even though the Justice Ministry gave permission in February for the case to continue under Turkey’s controversial Article 301, a loosely-defined law that criminalizes insulting the Turkish nation, “in my opinion the documents gathered in the file demand an acquittal.”

“There is no information, no document, no details, nothing,” Polat said. “There is just a video, showing the named people together, but what they are saying cannot be heard. It was shot in an open area, not a secret place, and there is no indication it was under any pressure.”

But prosecution lawyer Murat Inan told Compass, “Of course there is evidence. That’s why the Justice Ministry continued the case. This is a large ‘orgut’ [a term connoting an illegal and armed organization], and they need to be stopped from doing this propaganda here.”

At the close of the hearing, Inan told the court that there were missing issues concerning the judicial legality and activities of the “Bible research center” linked with the defendants that needed to be examined and exposed.

Turkish press were conspicuously absent at yesterday’s hearing, and except for one representative of the Turkish Protestant churches, there were no observers present.

The first seven hearings in the trial had been mobbed by dozens of TV and print journalists, focused on ultranationalist lawyer Kemal Kerincsiz, who led a seven-member legal team for the prosecution.

But since the January 2008 jailing of Kerincsiz and Sevgi Erenerol, who had accompanied him to all the Silivri trials, Turkish media interest in the case has dwindled. The two are alleged co-conspirators in the massive Ergenekon cabal accused of planning to overthrow the Turkish government.

This week the European Commission’s new “Turkey 2009 Progress Report” spelled out concerns about the problems of Turkey’s non-Muslim communities.

“Missionaries are widely perceived as a threat to the integrity of the country and to the Muslim religion,” the Oct. 14 report stated. “Further efforts are needed to create an environment conducive to full respect of freedom of religion in particular.”

In specific reference to Tastan and Topal’s case, the report noted: “A court case against two missionaries in Silivri continued; it was also expanded after the Ministry of Justice allowed judicial proceedings under Article 301 of the Criminal Code.”

The Turkish constitution guarantees freedom of religion to all its citizens, and the nation’s legal codes specifically protect missionary activities.

“I trust our laws on this. But psychologically, our judges and prosecutors are not ready to implement this yet,” Polat said. “They look at Christian missionaries from their own viewpoint; they aren’t able to look at them in a balanced way.”

Report from Compass Direct News 

CHURCH IN IRAN UNDERGOING REVIVAL AND FACING PERSECUTION


The church in Iran is experiencing revival while also facing oppression. Patrick Klein of Vision Beyond Borders recently spent nine days there, evaluating how to best support Iranian Christians, reports MNN.

“The revival in Iran is equivalent to what’s happening in China,” he explained. “Not as large a scale, but there are so many people coming to Christ in Iran, and people are searching for the truth.”

Klein was surprised by the Iranians’ lack of support for their government. He learned that fully 98 percent of the people do not support the government. “Everybody I talked to does not agree with the government,” Klein said.

Iranians have had enough of living in a society of oppression and fear, and they are eager to find a better way to live.

“They said there are two faces in Iran,” Klein explained. “There’s the face you have at your home, when you’re relaxed, and the women don’t have to have the hair covered at home and they can talk openly.” When they go out in public, however, Iranians said “we have to be very careful of what we say.”

Klein learned that the oppression could worsen in the coming months. “We’ve heard that Ahmadinejad said that this year, he’s going to wipe out Christianity in Iran and get rid of all traces of Christianity,” he said.

The Iranian government has shown plenty of brutality to its people, for reasons even less significant than converting to Christianity. Klein learned that after 9/11, 200,000 Iranians held “a candlelight vigil in support of America” on the streets for two nights.

“The second night, the police began beating up people and dispersed the crowds,” he said.

Klein discovered in Iran that he needed to repent of some of his perceptions about the people there. He found that Iranians were extremely friendly and nice to Americans.

“Never once did I feel any hostility from the Iranians at all,” he explained. On the contrary, the people were inviting him and his companions to dinner within five minutes of meeting them. Unfortunately, however, the government did not allow Iranians to invite Americans into their homes.

Despite the obstacles, VBB has an opportunity to deliver Farsi New Testaments to Iranian Christians. They hope to send a total of 10 thousand New Testaments into the country for only $4 each. Klein said that Iranian Christians need our support and our prayers.

“I believe we need to do all we can to get Scriptures in to them, to get tools in their hands to strengthen them, to encourage them. But I think the biggest thing is battling it on our knees and praying for them that they would be strong in the face of the opposition from the government.”

Report from the Christian Telegraph

UZBEKISTAN GOVERNMENT INTERFERENCE SLOWS CHURCH GROWTH


Three Christians have each been sentenced to 15 days in prison in the Andijan region of eastern Uzbekistan after police raided a home. Uzbekistan is located in Central Asia, north of Afghanistan, reports MNN.

According to Forum 18 News, speaking on condition of anonymity because of fear of retaliation, three additional Protestants at the house were detained in a homeless center for between four and eleven days, for not having their identification documents with them.

In a separate case, a Baptist in the capital city of Tashkent was given a ten-day prison sentence after approximately 20 officials from various state agencies — including the Presidential Administration — raided a prayer meeting in a registered church.

Officials told church members that they need special permission for any services aside from those on Sundays, though Forum 18 said the news service can’t find any legal requirement for this alleged regulation.

Vice President of Russian Ministries Sergey Rakhuba says they have work in the region, and he confirms that attacks against Christians are on the increase. “It looks like officials are targeting everybody who is talking about their faith, claiming that they are there to destroy their country.”

Rakhuba says these aren’t isolated cases of oppression. He says it’s happening all over the country. “People we work with are sending us messages saying that this is the beginning of another wave of very intense and very serious persecution.”

Ironically this has nothing to do with a new religion law in Uzbekistan, according to Rakhuba. “The believers were in their homes. They were in their churches. They were doing what their constitution allows. They were praying and reading the Bible. But government officials arrested them under their terrorist act or regulation, implying that they’re trying to [create an uprising] against their country, which it totally not true.”

Rakhuba says authorities are even trying to fabricate violations of the religion law. “They will stop somebody in the car, or arrest somebody on the streets, and then they plant New Testaments or Bibles or other literature, claiming that they were trying to distribute it on the streets, when they’re not trying to do that.”

He says even the long time Russian Baptist are having difficulties in the country.

Because the government’s taking such a hard stand on evangelical Christians, the church has gone underground. “That’s really who they are after. The more pressure they create, the more success we see in the underground movement, just like any other place on earth.”

Rakhuba reports that the underground church movement is growing like wildfire. Russian Ministries’ Schools Without Walls program has been created to work well in underground situations — training the next generation church leaders. “You don’t have to have schools or classrooms or schedules or approvals. You just have to have a leader” who’s willing to go and train.

Report from the Christian Telegraph

UNIVERSITY WHERE LECTURES ON CHRISTIANITY WERE HELD BOMBED


The BBC has reported that Israeli air force jets have bombed the Islamic University in the Gaza Strip, a significant cultural symbol for Hamas, reports Dan Wooding, founder of ASSIST Ministries.

Warplanes also struck Hamas government offices as air raids aimed at forcing Palestinian militants to halt rocket fire into southern Israel continued.

Palestinian medics say nearly 300 people have been killed in the air raids that began on Saturday.

Israel has threatened to launch a ground assault and is now calling up 6,500 army reservists.

Witnesses in Gaza said they saw six separate air strikes on the Islamic University, hitting a laboratory building, just after midnight.

The university is a centre of support for Hamas – the Islamist militant group which controls the Gaza Strip. Many of its top officials graduated from there.

A BBC journalist in Gaza said the university authorities had evacuated the campus a few days ago as they had been expecting a strike.

Some years ago, I accompanied Brother Andrew, the Dutch-born best-selling author of God’s Smuggler, into Gaza City and it was then that he revealed that he lectured on “Biblical Christianity” at the Islamic University there.

“I was invited to teach on ‘Biblical Christianity’ to the students there,” he said. “When all they were assembled, they were told that I would speak to them about the Bible and some of them tried to leave the lecture hall, but the Hamas leaders blocked their way and they had to sit through my lecture.

“I was also allowed to bring Arabic New Testaments and hand them out to the students.”

Brother Andrew once told the Hamas leaders, “I can’t change the situation you face here in Gaza. I can’t solve the problems you have with your enemies. But I can offer you the One who is called the Prince of Peace. You cannot have real peace without Jesus. And you cannot experience Him without forgiveness. He offers to forgive us of all our sins. But we cannot receive that forgiveness if we don’t ask for it. The Bible calls this repentance and confession of sin. If you want it, then Jesus forgives. He forgave me and made me a new person. Now I’m not afraid to die because my sins are forgiven and I have everlasting life.”

Brother Andrew, who is also the founder of Open Doors, the international organization supporting persecuted Christians, is convinced that the number of Muslims involved in suicide bombings will increase in the coming years. Andrew has visited Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian areas regularly since the early 1980′s, encouraging the Christians and speaking with radical Muslims about the Gospel. He describes the militant Muslims as deeply depressed.

“They are facing insurmountable problems: they will never be able to defeat Israel and the United States militarily, and their faith makes it very difficult for them to enter Paradise,” he says. “Muslims know that they can only be saved by good works, but they also know that they do more evil deeds than good. Many Muslims are convinced that they will end in Hell when they die.” They also have to admit that Allah does not answer their prayers. The Koran also shows them no way to be saved. Together, that leads many radical Muslims to choose death in Jihad, the holy war, because that is the only direct way to Paradise. “They see no reason to live, so choose the only reason to die,” he said, addressing the 900 attendees of the Open Doors Day in Niedernhausen, Germany, on November 26th, 2005, the 50th anniversary of Open Doors Germany.

 

Hamas, Hezbollah, PLO: immense interest in the Gospel

“Unless we Christians go to the Muslims and tell them that they do not have to die because Jesus died for their sins too, the dramatic situation in the Near East, Iraq and Afghanistan will not change,” he said, reminding Christians of their responsibility. In many encounters with leaders of Hamas, Hezbollah and the PLO, he regularly senses a great interest in the message of Christianity. “I have given thousands of Bibles to radical Muslims, and no-one has ever refused. I have also often spoken with them about Jesus who died for the sins of the world, and nobody has killed me for it.”

 

Be an example, don’t discuss

Andrew called on Christians to show more courage and mercy towards Muslims, who are desperately seeking meaning in life. Many Christians have resigned in the face of the Muslim challenge. “Muslims do not believe, as we do, that Jesus is the son of God, and that he poured out his blood on the cross for the sins of the world. But that is exactly the answer we must give them in their situation.” Christians should seek contact with Muslims, and tell them the Good News in love. “We will never win the encounter with Islam through discussions or sermons. We have to go and show them how Jesus can change people.”

Report from the Christian Telegraph

CHINA: RELIGIOUS FREEDOMS THREATENED AS OLYMPICS DRAW TO CLOSE


House churches asked not to meet during Games; new crackdown planned for October.

DUBLIN, August 20 (Compass Direct News) – As the Olympics draw to a close, new evidence of religious freedom abuses offers a stark contrast to China’s efforts to provide religious services for athletes and visitors during the Games.

China hired religious clerics to provide these services and published a special bilingual edition of the Bible for distribution to athletes and official churches during the event. Simultaneously, officials asked house church leaders in Beijing to sign documents agreeing not to hold services during the Games, the China Aid Association (CAA) reported on August 13.

More ominously, China has planned a new crackdown on four “troublesome elements,” including house church leaders, for October, when most Olympic athletes, tourists and journalists will have left the country, CAA reported on Monday (August 18).

 

Positive Steps

A British-based Christian charity, the Bible Society, provided funding for a special bilingual Olympic edition of 30,000 full Bibles and 10,000 New Testaments for distribution in the Olympic Village and to registered churches in the Olympic cities, the Catholic News Agency reported in June. The Amity Printing Press, China’s only government-approved Bible publisher, printed the books in a new multimillion dollar facility that opened in Nanjing in May.

The Chinese government claims that Amity produces more than enough Bibles to meet the needs of the Chinese church, a claim many religious freedom organizations dispute. Amity also prints Bibles for export internationally.

A report circulating before the Games declared that China had banned Bibles from the Olympic Village, but this report proved false.

Officials also hired religious clerics from the five government-approved faiths to provide services for athletes and tourists during the Games. The five groups are Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims, Protestants and Catholics; each one answers to a specific religious institution appointed to oversee their activities.

 

Restrictions in Place

In the lead-up to the Games, officials asked a number of house church pastors to sign a document agreeing to forego any activities at “Christian gathering sites” or meeting points while the Games took place, according to CAA.

Under this agreement, house churches were banned from gathering from July 15 to October 15, a total of 17 weeks. Those who broke the agreement would face “disciplinary action.”

The agreement asked that house churches “refrain from organizing and joining illegal gatherings and refrain from receiving donations, sermons and preaching from overseas religious organizations and groups that have a purpose.”

The Union of Catholic Asian News confirmed in a report on August 7 that officials had forbidden bishops and priests in unregistered Catholic churches to administer sacraments or do pastoral work during the Games.

Officials placed several underground bishops under house arrest and forbade them to contact their priests, the report added.

In Wuqiu village of Jinxian county, Hebei, police erected a small “house” in front of the cathedral presided over by underground Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo in order to provide a facility for 24-hour monitoring of the bishop.

Additionally, Bishop Joseph Wei Jingyi of Qiqihar in northeast China received phone calls from government officials asking if he planned to hold any religious gatherings during the Olympics. Wei said he would stay at home and pray for the success of the Games.

Prior to the Games, police banned several Christians from meeting with visiting U.S. government officials and asked others to leave Beijing for the duration of the event.

Police in July repeatedly asked house church pastor Zhang Mingxuan and his wife Xie Fenlang to leave Beijing. When they refused, police on July 18 entered a guesthouse where they were staying and drove them to Yanjiao in neighboring Hebei province.

When Zhang granted an interview to BBC journalist John Simpson, police detained Zhang and Xie before the interview could take place. (See Compass Direct News, “Chinese House Church Pastor Detained,” August 7.)

On August 10, police seized house church pastor and activist Hua Huiqi when he attempted to participate in a service at the government-approved Juanjie Protestant church in Beijing, where U.S. President George Bush was scheduled to appear.

Hua, still in hiding, wrote a letter to Bush later that day, pleading for prayer for his personal safety and for freedom of belief for all Chinese people. (See Compass Direct News, “Chinese Christians Plead for Relief as Olympics Continue,” August 13.)

 

October Crackdown

More prayer may be requested in coming months. China’s Communist Party (CPC) will launch a nationwide crackdown on four “unstable social elements” in October, CAA reported on Monday (August 18).

These elements were listed as illegal Christian house church leaders, petitioners, human rights defenders and political dissidents.

Outlined in a secret government directive passed to CAA, the crackdown is designed to coincide with a new campaign for “20 more years of political and social stability” in China.

In a speech on June 16, Zhou Yongkang, head of the Political and Legal Committee of the Central Committee of the CPC, called for “extraordinary measures” to be taken against these elements in order to protect the CPC’s continuous rule and reform programs.

The Beijing Municipal State Security Bureau has also begun a new citizen informant initiative, requiring ordinary citizens to report individuals and organizations posing a threat to national security, including those who “engage in activities that endanger state security by utilizing religions,” according to CAA.

Report from Compass Direct News