Turkey's trial of Pastor Andrew Brunson on espionage charges has triggered a significant increase in public hate against the country's small Protestant community, according to the Turkish Association of Protestant Churches (TAPC).
TAPC's annual human rights report for 2018 says the number of attacks designed to incite hatred of Protestants 'purely due to their beliefs' in Turkey's local, national and social media outlets had seriously increased during Brunson's arrest, jailing and two-year trial.
According to World Watch Monitor, the report said the Protestants' 150 congregations watched the US pastor's case 'with great sadness and concern' and were disturbed by Turkish media's repeated practice of linking churches and individual Christians with terror organisations, without providing any substantiating evidence.
Accusations by secret false witnesses against Brunson were 'reported as if they were true', and local and national publications refused to allow the slandered churches and individuals their constitutional right of reply or correction.
Media also published names, personal details, photographs and specific church activities openly in breach of data protection laws, the report said, targeting both Protestant churches and their members in direct news reports.
One Protestant church member, accused by a national newspaper of supporting a terrorist organisation after he visited a church in the eastern city of Van, lost a number of business contracts.
Other Protestants attempted legal action against the 'insidious propaganda' linked to the Brunson case without success.
The TAPC report said Protestants were particularly concerned because the tone of media coverage was similar to that of 12 years ago before the 2007 torture and murder of three Christians in Malatya, southeast Turkey.
It also reiterates other problems faced by Turkish Protestants, including the difficulty of registering places of world and prohibitions on seminaries. The government has yet to acknowledge TAPC, formed in 2009 as the representative Protestant institutional body.