Church fights to stay open in Turkey

A legally recognised church in Turkey is fighting to stay open after police last week delivered a letter from the government stating that it will be closed within days.

The letter said Batikent Protestant Church in the capital city Ankara would be closed because it is meeting in a building that is not approved as a place of worship, according to International Christian Concern on Tuesday.

But the church argues that it had won a court case last year against the local government over zoning code violations, and was essentially fighting a legal battle over a case it had already won.

"It is very obvious that what is happening to our church is a pre-meditated, continuous and jointly orchestrated direct attack against the Church as a whole in Turkey by the right-wing Islamic government (AK Party) that is currently in control in Turkey," said the church's founding pastor Daniel Wickwire, according to ICC.

Wickwire, who has been a missionary pastor in Ankara for the past 23 years, and his lawyers opened a court case to challenge the police notice on June 4. He accused the Yenimahalle Municipal Government and the national Ministry of the Interior of trying to shut down the church.

The government has also been the source of the pastor's personal legal difficulties. Turkey refuses to give Wickwire a residence permit or a work permit as a missionary, so he has been forced to stay in Turkey as a tourist for the past 19 years, having to leave the country every 90 days.

In addition, his applications for a work permit at the Turkish Consulate in Chicago were mysteriously "lost", Wickwire claims

"The consulate officials became very nervous and said that they would lose their jobs if they were to give out this information," said the pastor, recalling the occasion his wife had returned to the consulate to ask for updates on his application process. "They said that if we were Muslims we would not be having this kind of trouble."

Turkey's population is nearly all Muslim, with 99.8 per cent of its people reportedly followers of Islam, according to the CIA World Factbook.

The country has a history of Christian persecution, including the horrific murder of three Christian workers last April by Muslim extremists in the Bible publishing house where they worked.

The murders raised serious concerns within the European Union as to whether Turkey, which is applying for entry into the 27-member bloc, can protect the religious freedoms of its Christian population, which numbers only around 100,000. The issue of religious freedom in Turkey has been prominent since talks on Turkey's entry began in 2005.

In ICC's latest report, Pastor Wickwire said he has been involved in over 15 court cases in the last six years to keep his church open.

"It is high time for the international community to speak out against such overt, blatant and continual harassment and persecution of the church," Wickwire urged.