But court heavily fines them for dubious conviction of collecting personal data.
ISTANBUL, October 19 (CDN) — After four years of legal battle in a Turkish court, a judge acquitted two Christians of insulting Turkey and its people by spreading Christianity, but not without slapping them with a hefty fine for a spurious charge.
Four years ago this month, Turan Topal, 50, and Hakan Tastan, 41, started a legal battle after gendarmerie officers produced false witnesses to accuse them of spreading their faith and allegedly “insulting Turkishness, the military and Islam.”
At the Silivri court an hour west of Istanbul, Judge Hayrettin Sevim on Thursday (Oct. 14) acquitted the defendants of two charges that they had insulted the Turkish state (Article 301) and that they had insulted its people (Article 216) by spreading Christianity. Sevim cited lack of evidence.
He found them guilty, however, of collecting information on citizens without permission (Article 135) and sentenced them to seven months of imprisonment each. The court ruled that the two men could each pay a 4,500 lira (US$3,170) fine instead of serving time, said their lawyer Haydar Polat.
Tastan expressed mixed feelings about the verdicts.
“For both Turan and I, being found innocent from the accusation that we insulted the Turkish people was the most important thing for us, because we’ve always said we’re proud to be Turks,” Tastan said by telephone. “But it is unjust that they are sentencing us for collecting people’s information.”
At the time of their arrests, Topal and Tastan were volunteers with The Bible Research Center, which has since acquired official association status and is now called The Association for Propagating Knowledge of the Bible. The two men had used contact information that individuals interested in Christianity had volunteered to provide on the association’s website.
Administrators of the association stated openly to local authorities that their goal was to disseminate information about Christianity.
The two men and their lawyer said they will be ready to appeal the unjust decision of the court when they have seen the official statement, which the court should issue within a month. Polat said the appeal process will take over a year.
“Why should we have to continue the legal battle and appeal this?” asked Tastan. “We are not responsible for the information that was collected. So why are they fining us for this? So, we continue our legal adventure.”
Still, he expressed qualified happiness.
“We are free from the charges that we have insulted the Turkish state and the people of Turkey and we’re glad for that, but we are sorry about the court’s sentence,” Tastan said. “We’re happy on one hand, and sorry on the other.”
The court hearing lasted just a few minutes, said Polat.
“The judges came to the court hearing ready with their decision,” Polat said. “Their file was complete, and there was neither other evidence nor witnesses.”
Polat was hesitant to comment on whether the decision to convict the men of collecting private data without permission was because they are Christians. He did underline, however, that the court’s decision to fine the men was unjust, and that they plan to appeal it after the court issues an official written verdict.
“This was the court’s decision,” said Polat, “but we believe this is not fair. This decision is inconsistent with the law.”
Christianity on Trial
The initial charges in 2006 against Tastan and Topal were based on “a warning telephone call to the gendarme” claiming that some Christian missionaries were trying to form illegal groups in local schools and making insults against Turkishness, the military and Islam.
In March 2009 the Turkish Ministry of Justice issued a statement claiming that approval to try the two men’s case under the controversial Article 301came in response to the “original” statement by three young men 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.”
Two of the three witnesses, however, stated in court that they didn’t even know Topal and Tastan. The third witness never appeared in court. Prosecutors were unable to produce any evidence indicating the defendants described Islam in these terms. At the same time, they questioned their right to speak openly about Christianity with others.
Polat and his legal partners had based their defense on the premise that 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,” Polat told Compass last year. “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 and the defendants said that prosecuting lawyers gave political dimensions to the case by rendering baseless accusations in a nationalistic light, claiming that missionary activities were carried out by imperialistic countries intending to harm Turkey.
Tastan and Topal became Christians more than 15 years ago and changed their religious identity from Muslim to Christian on their official ID cards.
Initially accompanied by heavy media hype, the case had been led by ultranationalist attorney Kemal Kerincsiz and a team of six other lawyers. Kerincsiz had filed or inspired dozens of Article 301 court cases against writers and intellectuals he accused of insulting the Turkish nation and Islam.
Because of Kerincsiz’s high-level national profile, the first few hearings drew several hundred young nationalist protestors surrounding the Silivri courthouse, under the eye of dozens of armed police. But the case has attracted almost no press attention since Kerincsiz was jailed in January 2008 as a suspect in the overarching conspiracy trials over Ergenekon, a “deep state” operation to destabilize the government led by a cabal of retired generals, politicians and other key figures. The lawyer is accused of an active role in the alleged Ergenekon plot to discredit and overthrow Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party government.
Ergenekon has been implicated in the cases of murdered priest Andreas Santoro, Armenian editor Hrant Dink, and the three Christians in Malatya: Necati Aydin, Ugur Yuksel and Tilmann Geske.
In a separate case, in March of 2009 Tastan and Topal were charged with “illegal collection of funds.” Each paid a fine of 600 Turkish lira (US$360) to a civil court in Istanbul. The verdict could not be appealed in the Turkish legal courts. This ruling referred to the men receiving church offerings without official permission from local authorities.
Report from Compass Direct News
Without giving too much away, I would have to say that there have been many moments in my life when it was better to be safe than sorry. Really, when wouldn’t it be?
Though there are many times, one situation that continually presents itself is when you could choose to believe something or many things based on little evidence. Many people would simply react and at times I also do this, but I always try to be certain of the facts before I react. After all, it is better to be safe than sorry.
Fearing local religious leader, area police refuse to file murder complaint.
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, July 8 (CDN) — A Muslim mob in Jhelum, Pakistan murdered the wife and four children of a Christian last month, but local authorities are too afraid of the local Muslim leader to file charges, according to area Muslim and Christian sources.
Jamshed Masih, a police officer who was transferred 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Gujrat to Jhelum, Punjab Province, said a mob led by Muslim religious leader Maulana Mahfooz Khan killed his family on June 21 after Khan called him to the local mosque and told him to leave the predominantly Muslim colony. Jhelum is 85 kilometers (53 miles) south of Islamabad.
“You must leave with your family, no non-Muslim has ever been allowed to live in this colony – we want to keep our colony safe from scum,” Khan told Masih, the bereaved Christian told Compass.
Masih had moved to Mustafa Colony in Jhelum with his wife, two sons and two daughters and were living in a rented house. Masih said that a Muslim neighbor, Ali Murtaza, told him that area Muslims notified Khan, telling the religious leader, “We cannot allow these non-Muslims to live here, they will be a bad influence on our children.”
An anxious Masih told his wife Razia Jamshed about the local Muslim response, and they decided to bring their concern to the pastor of a local Presbyterian church, Saleem Mall.
“Pastor Saleem said, ‘I will also advise you to vacate the house, as it can be dangerous living there – these people can harm your family,” Masih said.
Masih’s neighbor, Murtaza, confirmed to Compass the response of the local Muslims and related incidents that led up to the murders. Murtaza told Compass that after Masih went to work at 7 a.m. on June 21, his children could be heard singing hymns before breakfast.
“Razia sent their eldest son to buy a packet of Surf [detergent], and he was singing a hymn on his way to buy the Surf,” Murtaza said.
Neighbors saw Masih’s s 11-year-old son come into the store, he said. The shopkeeper asked him if he was a Christian; the child responded that he was.
“The shopkeeper refused to give him the packet of Surf and spoke very harshly to him, ‘I don’t sell to any non-Muslim, you are not welcome here, don’t you dare ever come to my shop again,’” Murtaza said.
The boy went home, upset, and told his mother about the encounter; she grew worried and called her husband, saying, “Jamshed, please come home quickly, the kids and I are very worried, we must leave this house today,” Masih said.
His neighbor, Murtaza, said that shortly afterward some area residents came to the door with the Muslim religious leader, Khan.
“Your son has committed blasphemy against Muhammad, our beloved prophet – we can’t allow him to live, he should be punished,” Khan told Razia Masih, Murtaza said. “Razia got scared and said, ‘My son couldn’t do such a thing, he is only 11 years old.’”
Khan became furious and said, “Are we lying to you? You call us liars, how dare you insult us,” Murtaza said. “Someone from the crowd hit something hard on her head, and she started bleeding. The children started crying and shouted for help. Razia kept shouting for help, ‘Please have mercy on us, please let my husband come, then we can talk.’”
Jamshed Masih said his daughter telephoned police as the mob attacked his wife and children. He said he later learned that “the people kept shouting, ‘This family has committed blasphemy, they should be killed.”
Before police arrived, his family was murdered, he said.
Murtaza said Masih rushed home and was devastated to find the dead bodies of his wife and four children.
When Masih tried to file a complaint against Khan for the murder, Station House Officer (SHO) Ramzan Mumtaz refused to do so, according to Murtaza and Mall, the Presbyterian clergyman.
“He said, ‘Khan is an influential man, and he said your son has committed blasphemy – we cannot do anything against him,’” Mall said.
Murtaza added, “The SHO just said, ‘I am a poor man, I have a family, and I was pressured by higher authorities not to register the FIR [First Information Report] as Khan is a very influential man. I am sorry, I don’t have anything in my hands.’”
Contacted by Compass, SHO Mumtaz confirmed that he responded to the request to file the complaint against Khan in these exact words.
Masih has filed a complaint with the chief minister of Punjab Province begging him for justice, Mall told Compass.
“We condemn this brutal murder of innocent children in the name of Islam,” Mall said. “This has to stop now. We appeal to the government to let us live in peace.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Government wrecking crews arrive hours after promises of security.
HO CHI MINH CITY, April 9 (Compass Direct News) – Just hours after the prime minister’s office assured denominational leaders that there were no plans to destroy their Protestant church building, authorities in Banmethuot last month demolished the historic structure in the Central Highlands city.
Government work crews arrived at the site just after darkness fell on March 11 and quickly demolished the structure belonging to the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South), or ECVN(S), according to local sources.
Authorities had confiscated the church building in 1975 after the Communist victory and had removed its cross. But the bright pink church stood prominently, though unused, for many years on Le Duan Boulevard on Banmethuot’s south side. Church authorities many times had asked for its return.
It was the last remaining church building of the Ede ethnic minority, who make up most of Dak Lak’s 135,000 believers.
The demolition was the latest in a series of painful developments. In early March three pastors from ECVN(S)’s Dak Lak provincial committee took up the matter of the church building with local authorities. The officials told the pastors that the request for return would soon be resolved, and that until then the building was secure.
But on March 11, rumors of an imminent plan to demolish the church reached members of the ECVN(S) provincial committee. Alarmed, they called their top leaders at Ho Chi Minh City headquarters. The church president promptly agreed to call the office of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and the Ministry of Public Security in Hanoi. Officials told him not to worry, that there was no plan to demolish the church.
“Nothing will happen – we are in control,” an official told the denominational president, according to one Christian source. “The ECVN(S) president called his Dak Lak provincial committee in the evening to pass on this assurance from the very top. Hardly an hour later, after darkness had fallen, government officials supervised destruction of the church building.”
A frustrated ECVN(S) leader called the prime minister’s office and the Ministry of Public Security asking how, in the light of the demolition, the church could trust them, sources said.
“He was told, ‘Sorry, but this as an action of the local officials,’” one source said. “This downward deflection of responsibility in regard to religious issues happens regularly.”
A week later, on March 20, the ECVN(S) governing board of 22 members unanimously passed a resolution.
“Numerous times the Executive Council of our church has petitioned the government concerning our many confiscated properties,” the resolution reads. “Most regrettably, not only have the petitions not been satisfactorily dealt with, but on the night of March 11, 2009, officials of Dak Lak province demolished the last remaining Ede church at Gate One in Banmethuot City.
“The Executive Council of the ECVN(S) is extremely upset and in deep sympathy with the 135,000 believers in Dak Lak province. We hereby urgently notify all churches in our fellowship. We are deeply saddened by these events.”
Calling for the church to set aside today for fasting and prayer, the resolution also stated that ECVN(S)’s Executive Council would select representatives to meet with authorities of Dak Lak province and the central government to ask that “they urgently address and solve this matter so that the events described above will not be repeated in other places.”
When the church circulated the urgent bulletin concerning the day of fasting and prayer, government authorities strongly objected, saying they feared it might lead to demonstrations in the Central Highlands. But the church did not back down.
Fallout continues. The three pastors of the ECVN(S) Dak Lak provincial committee, two Ede and one ethnic Vietnamese, have resigned, citing government betrayal. A meeting of the two ECVN(S) vice-presidents with Dak Lak officials this week was described as “very disappointing.”
Dak Lak province was also the location of the demolition of a large new church building in Cu Hat, Krong Bong district in December. It belonged to the Vietnam Good News Church, an unregistered group (see “Authorities Destroy New Church Building,” Dec. 17, 2008). Authorities disguised in civilian clothes destroyed the new structure because they said Christians had illegally cut the lumber used to build it. Virtually all homes and buildings in the area are built using such lumber.
Being unregistered or fully registered as the ECVN(S) seems to make little difference to authorities, a Christian source said.
“Leaders of both registered and unregistered Protestant groups express equal helplessness in the face of such malicious government actions against them,” he said.
Last year the prime minister promised a resolution to a major dispute with Catholics over the long-contested property that once served as the residence of the papal nuncio in Hanoi. The outcome was similar: the confiscated property was not returned, and on Sept. 19, 2008 the residence was destroyed.
Both Protestant and Catholic church leaders in Vietnam say that blatant government duplicity quickly and seriously undermines Vietnam’s recent hard-won gains in perceptions of improvement in religious freedom.
Report from Compass Direct News
I am continually bewildered by the condemnation that is always dumped on Israel when it seeks to protect itself from terrorist aggression. I feel terribly sorry for innocent Palestinian people caught in the middle of this conflict between Israel and Hamas (as well as other terrorist organisations operating against Israel). However, while Palestinians actively support the likes of Hamas, it is difficult for me to accept their criticism of Israel (or that of other nations, whether they be Islamic or Western).
What other nation would sit on its hands when a group is actively terrorising and bombing its citizens? None I would suspect, yet this is what so many expect Israel to do. They must strike at those they know are responsible for targeting and killing its citizens. Hamas must be destroyed for a peaceful resolution of the Gaza Strip situation.
Why is Israel condemned for its occupation of Palestinian lands in Gaza, the West bank and the Golan Heights areas? Did not these areas come into Israeli hands as a result of the Six Day War in which Arab nations attempted to obliterate the Israeli nation? Haven’t these Arab nations and Arab groups constantly attempted to destroy Israel and haven’t some of these groups and nations made it their pledge to do so? Aren’t these areas close to the Israeli border used by terrorist group to fire rockets into Israel – then why shouldn’t Israel occupy them if it means protecting their people?
Surely the surrounding nations and Palestinians can’t legitimately declare their innocence in the face of Israeli retaliation? Who are they fooling? It seems that quite a number of gullible people and nations out there are buying it – but these people are simply ignoring the origins of the conflict with a biased view.
Hamas has to be stopped or there can be no peace. Hamas cannot defeat the might of the Israeli military – there can only be one winner here.
BELOW: Footage of the conflict in Gaza which needs to be understood in the face of constant rocket attacks on Israel
BELOW: Typical propaganda from anti-Israeli sources (beware – it is offensive):
Christians meet with Al-Maliki, ask for troops and provincial voting rights.
ISTANBUL, October 19 (Compass Direct News) – Amid escalating violence against Christians, Iraqi church leaders have appealed directly to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for increased efforts to curb the continuing attacks In Mosul.
In a meeting with Al-Maliki, 10 heads of Iraqi churches urged the prime minister on Thursday (Oct. 16) to send the army to Mosul to help the approximately 1,000 police that were dispatched this past week to keep watch over Christians in the city.
Church leaders said police efforts to curb violence were insufficient and more needed to be done to stabilize the city, from which an estimated 1,500 families have fled following recent killings of Christians.
Al-Maliki assured the church heads that he would do whatever was in his power in cooperation with them and that he hoped to send soldiers to Mosul “immediately,” said Shlemon Warduni, an auxiliary bishop of the Chaldean Church in Bagdad present at the meeting.
“He is upset and he’s sorry for what is happening,” said Warduni. “He is going to do whatever he can in cooperation with those who work with him.”
Members of the Christian communities believe that the police already sent to the city have made little difference and more forces are needed to ensure peace.
“I hope they will follow it up with more action; that they will continue as they said themselves until there is peace,” said Warduni. “We firmly ask for the army to be sent in the hopes that peace will come back and people will return to their homes.”
Father Basher Warda of St. Peter’s Seminary, spoke by phone to Compass with similar urgency. Government officials have visited Mosul and the victims promising to help, “but there is nothing,” said Fr. Warda. “A few initiatives here and there, but they cannot correspond to the whole crisis.”
He pointed out how no military spokesman has said Mosul is now secure, leaving only the government’s promises.
“The whole system needs to be reconsidered,” Fr. Warda said. “In a crisis the government should not take any holiday or rest, but they said, ‘We will see what to do in the coming days.’ But it’s not a matter of coming days; it’s a matter of families who have left everything behind.”
Families are still fleeing as threats, bombings and deaths persist in Mosul, according to Fr. Warda. He said 20 percent of the displaced people he has spoken to said they had been directly threatened before they fled Mosul. Others described how they witnessed threats against their neighbors, “the killing of a man, or a father and his son,” in their streets.
“These [accounts] … show there is something planned to evacuate Christians form Mosul,” he said. “They say: ‘We cannot risk it.’”
Change in Parliament
It is not clear who is behind the attacks on Christians in Mosul, where U.S. and Iraqi forces have been conducting operations against the Sunni militant group al-Qaeda.
The displacement of Christians follows comes on the heels of an Iraqi parliamentary vote to drop a clause in its new provincial election law, Article 50, that protected rights of minorities by guaranteeing their representation on provincial councils.
The change earlier this month sparked protests from Christians in Mosul, which some believe have fueled the attacks on the Christian community.
In their meeting with Al-Maliki, church community leaders also pleaded for the re-instatement of Article 50. Al-Maliki assured them he would bring it to the attention of Parliament in the next session, Warduni said.
Although unwilling to draw direct links to the demonstrations, Fr. Warda did tell Compass that he thought the attacks were coordinated.
“Maybe it’s a coincidence, and maybe it’s an occasion for violence,” said Fr. Warda. “But whatever the reason was, it looks like there was a plan [for the violence]. We cannot say it’s just a coincidence, it happened in such a quick way.”
He called the effort to clear Christians out of Mosul, a “massive task.”
“We are talking about 1,700 families who have fled in nine days,” he said.
In the wake of attacks on churches and individuals, Iraqi Christians have fled to surrounding villages leaving homes and businesses.
Some of Mosul’s refugees have sought shelter across the border in either Turkey or Syria. It is the small and unprepared villages surrounding the city, however, that have borne the brunt of the displacement, according to Fr. Warda.
For now, the primary concern of church leaders is the safe return of those who have fled.
“[Mosul is] their history, their heritage, memories are there. Every beautiful memory is there. We have to do something,” said Fr. Warda. He said those he spoke to were too afraid to go back to their homes and did not know if they could trust the government for their security.
Asked whether he thought Mosul would lose its entire Christian population, Fr. Warda said, “I don’t care to think about it, because it would be a tragedy for all people. The choices are so limited. My concern now is for Christians who are leaving.”
Although “hopeful” about the situation of Mosul’s Christian community, Warduni did not hesitate to criticize what he calls the “silence” of the international community on the human rights of Iraq’s Christian community.
“I want to tell the developed world that from the outset no one has said anything,” he said. “No one is talking about the rights of Christians and minorities in Iraq. We are waiting for support from the outside, at least as human beings not only as Christians.”
Report from Compass Direct News