Religious freedom still restricted in Turkey
Published 11 April 2012 | ASSIST News Service
Compass Direct News (CDN) is reporting that sentiment against Christians in Turkey has persisted long enough for a US religious rights monitor to recommend it as a "Country of Particular Concern", and pastor Orhan Picaklar knows such anti-Christian hostility first-hand.
Picaklar, of Agape Church in Samsun, lives in the Black Sea region, a bastion of Turkey's unique Islamic-imbued nationalism.
"We have been here for 10 years, and people here still treat us like cursed enemies," Picaklar said. Picaklar's son received death threats on Facebook last September, and a man in his early 20s caused minor damage to Picaklar's church building last month.
CDN said that the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) last month recommended that Turkey be designated as a "Country of Particular Concern", among Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan, for religious freedom violations.
The report cited the government for "systematic and egregious limitations" on religious freedom, stating that Turkey, "in the name of secularism, has long imposed burdensome regulations and denied full legal status to religious groups, violating the religious freedom rights of all religious communities."
CDN added that restrictions that deny non-Muslim communities the rights to train clergy, offer religious education and own and maintain places of worship have led to their decline and in some cases their disappearance, the report stated.
Religious restrictions in Turkey have not increased in the last year, but the report stated that continued legal discrimination against non-Muslim groups was a dangerous trend. Turkish officials called USCIRF's recommendation to the US Department of State "null and void".
Five years after the murder of Turkish Christians Necati Aydin, Ugur Yuksel and German Christian Tilmann Geske in Malatya, no verdict has been issued due to Turkey's slow judiciary. This has not helped Turkey's religious rights image.
The Malatya Third Criminal Court is making some progress in shedding light on a shadowy group that was allegedly behind the murders, experts said, but the process has been painfully slow.
A new indictment due last month against the alleged "masterminds" of the murders is still not ready, prosecution lawyers said, setting back hopes for progress at hearings this week.
"Nothing is going to happen," plaintiff lawyer Erdal Dogan said.
"We are still waiting for the new indictment."
The court decided to re-convene on June 18.
"The April 2007 murders are believed to be part of a conspiracy to overthrow the current pro-Islamic government," added CDN. "Prosecuting lawyers and members of the local Protestant community still hope that the new indictment due ahead of the June 18 hearing will be a step forward in bringing the perpetrators to justice."
"I believe the indictment will uncover many details we are not aware of," Umut Sahin, coordinator of the Legal Committee of the Association of Turkish Protestant Churches (TEK), told Compass. "I think it might surprise us."
Sahin said that he believed the delay of the new indictment was due to its complexity and length and not any unwillingness to advance the case.
CDN went on to say that since 2008 there have not been similar bloody attacks against Protestants, but according to TEK, 2011 saw a spike in hate crimes against the association's 4,500 members.
Commenting on the slow proceedings of the Malatya trial, researcher Yildirim of the ABO Academy said that the judiciary and Turkish "problems of rule and law" were partially to blame, but that the forthcoming new indictment would be a positive step.
"For Malatya, if you put aside the slowness, now finally a new indictment is being prepared to find the instigators," she said. "So this is a positive effect. It's not what we expect from justice, but even though it is slow, this is a positive outcome of the trial."