'Ugly' charges against Turkish pastor dropped

Pastor Orhan Picaklar was arrested on Monday (Photo: Samsun Agape Church)

Protestant Pastor Orhan Picaklar was informed last week that what he called "ugly slanders" against his character and conduct have been officially dropped by the Turkish prosecutor investigating his case.

Picaklar was detained on November 11, 2013 and held for two days in the Black Sea coastal city of Samsun over alleged involvement in prostitution, sexual harassment and human trafficking.

Samsun Prosecutor Recep Bakirci declared in a ruling issued on January 13 that there was no sufficient evidence to open a case against the pastor, nor against nine other suspects listed on the official complaint.

Picaklar only learned of the decision on February 3, when he received a mailed copy of the official's four-page ruling.

All of the allegations from the accuser, a 19-year-old Iranian woman deported from Samsun before Picaklar's arrest, were "abstract, unbelievable claims", the prosecutor concluded.

For the past two-and-a-half months, Picaklar, who has pastored the Samsun Agape Church for 10 years, was required to sign in weekly at the police station.

"I was truly put to shame," the pastor said. "I hadn't done anything, but this was a huge and ugly slander, and most people who read the press believed it."

Even so, he said, newcomers kept coming to the church services, and four people were baptized during the month following his arrest.

"Our hearts were at peace before God," Picaklar wrote on his Facebook page the day he received the prosecutor's ruling to drop the case. "But we awaited acquittal before the people with patience and prayer."

In a statement to local newspapers that same day, the pastor said: "Our small Christian congregation of about 100 believers in Samsun felt great pain over this incident. For years, we have helped many people here, whatever their beliefs, only in the name of God. But we have now left behind these pain-filled days and emerged acquitted!"

He stressed that the church would continue to serve anyone in need. "At this time, we are providing help for hundreds of Iranians, Iraqis, Afghans and Africans in our city," he said.

Yet threats and harassment of the Samsun congregation and its pastor continue.

On January 12, an African medical student who has attended the church for three years was accosted by a young man she did not know, as she left the Sunday service. She ignored his shouts, but when he persisted in following her, she pleaded with him to leave her alone. When police asked if he was bothering her, he ran over and hit her in the face.

As the police were taking him into custody, the young woman said he shouted, "Leave me alone. I'm a Turk! Arrest this dirty foreigner!" The authorities took the student's testimony and filed an official complaint against her assailant.

Picaklar said that a week before he was arrested, he received a threatening phone call from a young man who had previously attended the church. A police probe uncovered the man's alleged intent to obtain a gun and plan an attack. He was taken into custody, but released when no weapon was found.

Picaklar said the same man has continued to threaten him by email and phone. "I reported this, and they gave a March 18 date for a court hearing," the pastor told World Watch Monitor. "But this person is looking for an opportunity to make a serious attack."

Picaklar remains under police protection, along with two other Protestant church leaders in Turkey subjected to ongoing threats and harassment.

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