Government needs to slow down on changes to spying and foreign interference laws


File 20180608 137315 1qkiuu4.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Attorney-General Christian Porter wants the legislation passed before the “Super Saturday” byelections on July 28.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

What’s the rush? If you believe Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter, unless two pieces of security legislation are in place in the remaining two weeks of parliament before the winter recess, the country will be in peril.

This was the line Porter was taking yesterday on the release of the Advisory Report on the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill.

His argument is nonsense. Labor should also be taken to task for being party to a hasty process that appears on the face of it to be expedient. Labor’s persistent concern is to avoid being wedged on security issues.

Under the proposed legislation, bodies such as Amnesty International that have been critical of Australian government policies may be vulnerable.

Porter wants two separate tranches of legislation – the Espionage and Foreign Interference Bill and a Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill – to be passed before the Super Saturday byelections on July 28.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Government and Labor unite to erect the barriers against foreign interference


Porter’s argument appears to be that unless the legislation passes in the concluding two weeks of the midyear session of parliament, those byelections will be conducted in a perilous atmosphere. He said:

There’s an unprecedented level of foreign intelligence activity in Australia and that means more foreign agents and more foreign power using more tradecraft and more technologies to engage in espionage and foreign interference and the attempted foreign influence of our democratic processes.

And that increase in volume is detectable even in the period of time that this piece of legislation has been under consideration by the committee.

No reasonable person would argue against the need for beefed-up legislation to deal with challenges to democratic processes such as those witnessed during the recent US election.

Russian cyber interference in the US political process is hardly in question, nor attempts by Russian agents of influence to suborn the system. The question is to what degree?

What is proposed in Australian legislation foreshadowed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull late last year is a new and far-reaching suite of laws aimed at limiting foreign interference.

An initial version of the bill was poorly drafted. It represented an unreasonable threat to individual liberties and freedom of expression.

It was particularly antagonistic to journalists operating in the security space. Long jail terms for publication of unauthorised security material were incorporated.

The insertion of a public interest amendment has somewhat alleviated that risk.

Fairfax Media’s publication overnight of leaked documents dealing with alleged war crimes by members of the Special Air Service might have fallen foul of such provisions, and may still do so.

Media coverage of the draft amendments to the Espionage and Foreign Interference Bill has been relatively favourable. However, this might have less to do with the merits of the legislation than with relief the bill is less threatening to legitimate inquiry than an earlier draft.

In all, parliament’s Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security made 60 recommended amendments to the Espionage and Foreign Interference Bill.

Most of these recommendations are cosmetic, except those relating to journalistic inquiry. They include the need for security certifications to be validated before proceedings could be initiated for an espionage or secrecy offence, and a review of the legislation by the National Security Legislation Monitor after three years.

Urging quick action on the Espionage and Foreign Interference Bill, Porter argued that a second bill, the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill, was required to complement the main piece of legislation.

This refers to legislation that sought to proscribe involvement in Australian political processes not just by foreign governments and their agents, but by entities like GetUp, which has drawn part of its funding from foreign sources.

The scope of this proposed legislation – which is yet to be agreed by the JCOIS – has now been limited to foreign governments, foreign-related entities, foreign political organisation and foreign government-directed individuals.

Foreign companies would be excluded from this provision unless it could be demonstrated they were closely connected to a foreign government or political organisation.

In such cases, government-dominated companies, even those associated with friendly nations, would be required to register under the proposed law.

In efforts to guard against interference by individuals or companies who might be connected with a foreign government, the Attorney-General’s Department would be empowered to issue “transparency notices” to identify such individuals or companies.




Read more:
New foreign interference laws will compound risks to whistleblowers and journalists


An appeals process against these findings would be available through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Porter said:

It’s vital that our national security legislation and framework reflects the modern challenges that we face … that framework remains dangerously incomplete while these two remaining and critical bills remain unlegislated.

As interested parties digest the provisions of the proposed amendments, it’s likely more objections will be raised, such as those by Claire O’Rourke, one of Amnesty’s Australian representatives.

O’Rourke told The Guardian that under the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill charities like Amnesty that hold the Australian government to account on its human rights record could face criminal charges. She said:

This is clear government overreach and a cynical exercise by both sides of politics to shield themselves from the scrutiny of Australian society, including charities.

The ConversationThe upshot of all this? Quite simply, more time is needed to review proposed amendments.

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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ReachTEL polls: Labor trailing in Longman and Braddon, and how Senate changes helped the Coalition


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Bill Shorten and the ALP will need to work hard to win July byelections in Longman and Braddon.
AAP/Tracey Nearmy

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

Sky News ReachTEL polls, conducted last week in the seats of Longman and Braddon from samples of over 800, gave the LNP a 52-48 lead in Longman and the Liberals a 54-46 lead in Braddon.

These polls represent a three-point swing against Labor in Longman, and a six-point swing in Braddon since the 2016 election. Longman and Braddon are two of the five seats that will be contested at byelections on July 28.

Primary votes in ReachTEL polls do not exclude undecided voters, and thus understate major party vote shares. In Braddon, primary votes provided were 47% Liberals, 33% Labor and 6% Greens. In Longman, primary votes were 38% LNP, 35% Labor, 2% Greens and 14% Others. Strangely, One Nation, which won 9.4% in 2016, does not appear to have been listed.

ReachTEL uses respondent allocated preferences, and this is helping the LNP in Longman. The major party primary votes appear to be about the same as in the 2016 election, but the LNP is benefiting from a stronger flow of preferences.

While the Longman poll is bad for Labor, it is a one-point gain for Labor since a ReachTEL poll for The Australia Institute conducted after the May budget. Individual seat polls have not been accurate in the past. With more than seven weeks left until the election, Labor can reasonably hope to hold Longman.

The March 3 Tasmanian election was a disaster for Labor, and this appears to have flowed into federal Tasmanian polling. Tasmania uses the same electorates for its state elections as the federal Tasmanian electorates. In Braddon, the Liberals won 56% at the state election, to just 27% for Labor and 4% for the Greens.




Read more:
Liberals romp to emphatic victory in Tasmanian election


Analyst Kevin Bonham says that the Tasmanian federal election results have been closer to the state election if the federal election came soon after the state election. In this case, the scheduling of the byelections for July 28 has helped Labor by putting more distance between the state election and the federal byelection for Braddon.

Another problem for Labor in Braddon is that the Liberal candidate is the former MP Brett Whiteley. As Whiteley is well-known in that electorate, Labor’s Justine Keay will not benefit as much from a “sophomore surge” effect.




Read more:
Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie most vulnerable at byelections forced by dual citizenship saga


National ReachTEL: 52-48 to Labor

Sky News also released a national ReachTEL poll, conducted last week from a sample of over 2,000. Labor had a 52-48 lead in this poll, unchanged from early May. Primary votes were 35% Coalition (down one), 34% Labor (down one), 11% Greens (up one) and 9% One Nation (up three).

This poll was probably taken before Pauline Hanson and Brian Burston had a falling-out. Bonham estimated this poll was 53-47 to Labor by 2016 election preferences.

By 49-43, voters supported reducing the company tax rate to 25% for “all” businesses, a similar result to an Ipsos poll in early April (49-40 support). However, a late March ReachTEL that asked about tax cuts for “big” companies had voters opposed 56-29.




Read more:
Poll wrap: Newspoll not all bad news for Turnbull as Coalition’s position improves


Voters were more favourable to the company tax cuts in Braddon (56-38 support) and Longman (58-33 support) than nationally.

By a narrow 47-45 margin, voters nationally opposed refugees on Nauru and Manus Island being allowed to settle in Australia. Opposition was far stronger in Braddon (60-31) and Longman (66-28). By 59-27, voters nationally agreed that there should be a 90-day limit on refugee detention.

National Essential: 54-46 to Labor

This week’s Essential poll, conducted May 31 to June 3 from a sample of 1,025, gave Labor a 54-46 lead, a three-point gain for Labor since last fortnight. Primary votes were 37% Labor (up one), 36% Coalition (down four), 10% Greens (steady) and 8% One Nation (steady).

Essential still uses the 2016 election preference flows, so this poll would be 53-47 by Newspoll’s new methods. Labor’s position in the national polls has improved since late May, when Parliament resumed its sitting.

Turnbull’s net approval was up two points since early May to a net zero. Shorten’s net approval was down nine points to -13. Turnbull led Shorten by 41-27 as better PM (40-26 in May).

37% both approved and disapproved of cutting the “tax rate for businesses from 30% to 25%, estimated to cost $65 billion over the next 10 years”.

50% thought the Newstart payment of $270 per week for a single person with no children was too low, 26% about right and 9% too high. At least 64% agreed with five statements about Newstart that implied it should be increased.

How the Senate has changed since the 2016 election

At the 2016 election, the Coalition won 30 of the 76 senators, Labor 26, the Greens nine, One Nation four, the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) three and Others four. The four Others were Bob Day, David Leyonhjelm, Derryn Hinch and Jacqui Lambie. 39 votes are required to pass legislation through the Senate.

On a right vs left count, the Coalition, One Nation, Day and Leyonhjelm were right-wing senators, and Labor and the Greens left. If all of the right-wing senators voted for Coalition legislation, they needed three of the five centrists on bills opposed by Labor and the Greens. As the NXT controlled three senators, the Coalition needed to work with them.

Since the election, there have been several changes to party composition.

  • In February 2017, Cory Bernardi resigned from the Liberals to start his own Australian Conservatives party.
  • In April 2017, the High Court disqualified Bob Day, and he was replaced by Lucy Gichuhi, the second candidate on Family First’s South Australian Senate ticket. Gichuhi joined the Liberals in February 2018.
  • In October 2017, the High Court disqualified One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts, and he was replaced by Fraser Anning, who promptly resigned from One Nation. On Monday, Anning joined Katter’s Australian Party.
  • In November 2017, Lambie resigned owing to the citizenship fiasco, and she was replaced by Steve Martin. Martin joined the Nationals in May 2018.
  • In November 2017, NXT Senator Skye Kakoschke-Moore resigned over the citizenship fiasco, and was replaced in February 2018 by Tim Storer, who had been expelled from the NXT.
  • Last week, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson and Brian Burston had a falling-out after Burston said he would vote for the company tax cuts, in opposition to current One Nation policy.

As a result of these changes, the Coalition has gained one net seat to have 31 senators, Labor and the Greens are unchanged, One Nation is down two to two, the Centre Alliance (formerly NXT) is down one to two, and Others are up two to six. Others now include Bernardi, Anning, Storer and Burston, but not Day or Lambie.

Bernardi, Anning and Burston are right-wing senators. Including One Nation and Leyonhjelm, there are now 37 right senators. If they all vote the same way, the Coalition requires either the two Centre Alliance senators, or Hinch and Storer, to pass legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens.

The changes to the Senate have improved the Coalition’s position, as they now have two options rather than one if Labor and the Greens oppose legislation.

In brief: Spanish conservative government falls, Italian populist government formed, Ontario election June 7

On June 1, the Spanish conservative government lost a confidence vote, and was replaced by a Socialist government. Three months after the March 4 Italian election, a government of two populist parties has been formed. You can read more at my personal website.




Read more:
Newspoll round-up: Labor leading in Victoria and tied in New South Wales; populists dominate in Italy


Canada’s most populous province of Ontario holds an election on June 7, with polls closing at 11am on Friday Melbourne time. Ontario uses First Past the Post. After 15 years of government by the centre-left Liberals, the Conservatives looked likely to win this election in a landslide.

The ConversationHowever, the NDP, the most left-wing major party, surged, and is currently tied with the Conservatives in CBC analyst Éric Grenier’s Poll Tracker, but the Conservatives are shown as winning a majority of seats. The Conservative leader, Doug Ford, has been compared to Donald Trump.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Viewpoints: could Labor’s tax changes make the system fairer or hurt investors?


Danielle Wood, Grattan Institute; Brendan Coates, Grattan Institute; Gordon Mackenzie, UNSW, and John Daley, Grattan Institute

The Australian Labor party will scrap a system that refunds more than A$5 billion a year to low or zero tax paying investors, should they win government.

Franking credits” are designed to stop tax being paid twice on Australian corporate profits, allowing shareholders a credit for the tax paid by the company. But when shareholders don’t pay taxes at all they can claim a cash refund for unused credits from the tax office.

Scrapping cash refunds on unused franking credits could make the tax system fairer according to Danielle Wood, Brendan Coates and John Daley from the Grattan Institute.

But according to Gordon Mackenzie from UNSW, these cash refunds incentivise people to invest in Australian companies, and ending them could see super and self-managed super funds, in particular, pulling their investment from local companies.

Labor proposes to abolish cash refunds of unused franking credits for individuals and superannuation funds. Not for profits and universities, which do not pay income tax, will continue to receive cash refunds for franking credits.


A piecemeal move towards a fairer tax system

Danielle Wood, Brendan Coates and John Daley, Grattan Institute

Labor’s proposal is not comprehensive tax reform. But in the absence of that holy grail, it is a piecemeal move towards a more equitable tax system. The change will primarily affect wealthy retirees.

The wealthiest 20% of retirees own 86% of shares held by older Australians outside of super. And among self-managed superannuation funds (primarily held by wealthier retirees), half of the refunds are currently going to people with balances over A$2.4 million.

Abolishing cash refunds for individuals and superannuation funds will raise about A$5 billion a year in extra revenue. About 33% will be paid by individuals (mostly in high wealth households), 60% will be paid by self-managed superannuation funds (typically held by wealthier retirees), and the remaining 7% will be paid by Australian Prudential Regulation Authority regulated superannuation funds.


ABS Survey of Income and Housing 2015-16, Author provided

Cash refunds on franking credits were introduced in 2001 for shareholders who had more franking credits than the tax they owed. The theory was that people with no or low income should have the same incentives to invest in Australian companies as other investors.

At the time, the decision cost the budget little – around A$550 million a year – because very few people with low income also owned shares.

But new superannuation rules in 2006 relieved retirees from paying any tax on their superannuation withdrawals. Retirees also pay no tax on their super fund earnings. As more people with significant super balances retire, an increasing number qualify for cash refunds on unused franking credits.

And a series of changes to the Seniors and Pensioners Tax Offset increased the proportion of over-65s paying no tax on earnings outside of super.

The cash refund system now costs the federal budget more than A$5 billion a year. But abolishing cash refunds on dividends won’t be costless.

The franking credit regime was set up for a variety of good reasons. It aimed to bias Australians towards investing in Australia. In practice this appears to have led to Australian companies being funded more through equity and less through debt, improving financial stability.

In theory it would also lead to more physical investment in Australia, although there is less evidence that this has happened.

In practice, franking credits also encourage Australian companies to pay dividends rather than inefficiently hoard cash or invest in low-return projects.




Read more:
How the government can pay for its proposed company tax cuts


So abolishing cash refunds, but keeping franking credits for those who do pay income tax, is probably not the ideal policy. It abandons the principle that all company profits should be taxed at an investor’s marginal rate of income tax. And it reduces the incentive for retirees to invest in companies from Australia rather than overseas.

On the other hand, the decisions not to tax superannuation withdrawals and to increase the effective tax-free threshold for older Australians have led to wealthy retirees contributing very little to government revenues relative to younger households.

Even though the wealth of older generations has jumped in line with asset prices, the share of senior Australians who pay income tax has nearly halved – from 27% to 16% – in the past two decades.

In an ideal world the federal government would reintroduce a number of higher income and wealthy older Australians to the tax system by taxing superannuation earnings and abolishing age-based tax rates. But in the absence of the political will to make these changes, abolishing cash refunds provides a big boost to the budget bottom line from more or less the same group.


The changes could bring distortions to investors

Gordon Mackenzie, Senior Lecturer, University of New South Wales

Chasing franking credits is one of the few tax issues that super fund investment managers take into account when investing, and is a significant consideration for self-managed super funds, according to my research with Professor Margaret McKerchar.

As the previous authors mention, franking credits are intended as an incentive for certain investors to invest in Australian companies. Under the rules, super funds and self-managed super funds don’t pay tax when they are paying a retirement pension, if the account balance is below a certain level.

Since they pay no tax, it is worthwhile for these funds to invest in Australian companies that will pay franking credits. Doing so allows them to claim credits from the tax office.

But this also means that if cash refunds on franking credits are done away with, it is an implicit 30% tax increase on super and self-managed funds that invest in Australian companies. This creates an incentive for them to put their money elsewhere.

If these funds invest in something like a government bond then they will pay no tax on the profits. If they invest in an Australian company, the company will pay the corporate tax and there will be no way for super funds to claim the tax back.




Read more:
Tax reform aside, there’s no real case to kill off dividend imputation


Many self-managed super funds have accounts for paying a pension to the member and another account for accumulating funds, but not paying out anything. Self-managed super funds will likely replace Australian shares in their pension accounts with assets such as bonds or managed funds.

This is important, as data shows that Australian shares are one of the largest asset classes held by self-managed super funds, ranging between 21% and 30.8% of the entire portfolio, depending on the size of the fund.

The response of other types of superannuation funds will probably be more muted. While they do value imputation credits, they also care about diversifying their portfolios – there will still be benefits to holding some Australian shares.

The ConversationOverall, then, imputation credits are important to superannuation funds, both big and small. The refund not only makes certain types of investment attractive, but also drives how much is invested in that type of investment.

Danielle Wood, Program Director, Budget Policy and Institutions, Grattan Institute; Brendan Coates, Fellow, Grattan Institute; Gordon Mackenzie, Senior Lecturer, UNSW, and John Daley, Chief Executive Officer, Grattan Institute

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

McCormack puts Chester back on frontbench in cautious changes


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Victorian Nationals MP Darren Chester, controversially dropped from cabinet by Barnaby Joyce, has been restored to the ministry in a minimalist reshuffle by new party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack.

Chester takes McCormack’s old posts of veterans’ affairs and defence personnel. He also replaces McCormack as deputy leader of the house. He will be in the outer ministry rather than in cabinet, as he was previously, but is believed to be happy with the outcome.

The dropping of Chester in the December reshuffle – on the stated grounds that the election of Bridget McKenzie as deputy meant Victoria would be over-represented in the Nationals’ cabinet line-up – sparked much criticism. It added to the pressure on Joyce when the news of his affair with a former staffer broke.

In other changes, Queenslander Keith Pitt, also dropped by Joyce, becomes assistant minister to the deputy prime minister.

Mark Coulton, from New South Wales, is elevated to assistant minister for trade, tourism and investment.

Two assistant minister have been relegated to the backbench – Damian Drum from Victoria and Luke Hartsuyker from NSW.

McCormack has rewarded supporters but has been cautious in making changes. Rumours were flying among some in the jittery Nationals of much wider changes though these never seemed likely, given the new leader needs to settle the party down. McCormack said in a statement that “ultimately my focus was on maintaining stability so the government can get on with the job of delivering for the nation”.

The ConversationOn Monday, McCormack was sworn into the infrastructure and transport portfolio that Joyce took from Chester in December.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australian Politics: 21 July 2013


The new hardline regime concerning asylum seekers has been implemented with the first boat arriving since the announcement of the changes by Kevin Rudd and Labor. The Coalition is supporting some of the changes, which for Labor should be an alarm bell, meaning it has gone too far to the right.

For more visit:
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/first-asylum-boat-arrives-under-rudds-hardline-png-solution/story-fn59niix-1226682406568



The link below is to an article that looks at some of the divergent interest parties contesting this year’s federal election.

For more visit:
http://www.easternriverinachronicle.com.au/story/1650949/something-for-everyone-how-niche-parties-are-taking-over-australias-political-landscape/

Australia: Temperatures Mean Map Changes


The link below is to an article that reports on the Bureau of Meteorology in Australia having to add additional colours to the temperature map graphic of Australia for the extreme temperatures currently being experienced in Australia.

For more visit:
http://www.smh.com.au/environment/weather/temperatures-off-the-charts-as-australia-turns-deep-purple-20130108-2ce33.html

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

Government crackdown on missionary presence could get worse


The Kazakh government continues to put pressure on foreign missionaries attempting to obtain visas to stay in the country. The Kazakh church is prepared for matters to get worse, reports MNN.

"Foreign involvement for the purpose of missionary work in Kazakhstan becomes increasingly difficult to happen," confirms Eric Mock, vice president of Ministry Operations for Slavic Gospel Association.

Norwegian news network Forum 18 conveys a number of instances in which the Kazakh government has denied visas to foreign missionaries of various minority faiths. A missionary visa, as it is, lasts only 180 days and cannot be renewed.

Mock says there is some fear that the visas will become even more restrictive. According to Forum 18, the Nur Otan Party has even created a document calling for further crackdown on "non-traditional faiths." Forum 18 quotes a report as saying, "The Nur Otan Party should devote special attention to the activity of non-traditional religious movements of destructive character. The destructive impact of such movements is very great."

With clear contempt toward the presence of evangelical Christian missionaries as well as missionaries for other minority faiths, the church as well as ministries like SGA need to prepare for any change. "[We need to] be sure that we do not assume that the world that we minister in today is the same that we minister in tomorrow," says Mock.

Whether or not missionary presence is increasingly restricted does not directly affect SGA, since their ministry mainly focuses on helping nationals. Still, won’t a crackdown harm the church? Mock says not as much as you might think.

"There is one thing that I saw [in Kazakhstan] that mostly encouraged my heart," explains Mock. "I saw a group of ethnic Kazakh young men who God has raised up with a passion to reach their own people. I had not really seen that in the past; it [had been] more of a Russian Baptist influence, but now I’m seeing Kazakh Baptist."

As long as changes don’t happen too abruptly, Mock says he believes the church will be able to handle any blows headed their way. The energy generated by young church leaders could be just what the Kazakh church needs to become self-sustaining. "With this new generation coming up, I think even with law changes, God has raised up this younger generation to make a profound impact for the sake of the Gospel."

If laws are passed too quickly or even just gradually, their effects will still of course be evident in the church. Mock says the best thing that we can do for them now is to pray. "There is nothing more important than praying for the believers in Kazakhstan to be passionate in reaching their own people, and to see more churches planted with that same commitment to advance the Gospel."

Report from the Christian Telegraph

Julia Gillard has Announced New Ministry for Minority Government


Prime Minister Gulia Gillard has announced the make up of her new ministry in Australia’s 43rd national government, in the current ALP minority government supported by the Greens and Independents. A Regional Ministry position was turned down by Independent Rob Oakeshott. There are several changes to the ALP team. The entire ministry can be viewed at:

http://alp.org.au/federal-government/news/prime-minister-announces-new-ministry/