Turkey's Christians still concerned over safety as Bible worker trial continues

One of the men standing trial in Turkey for the murders of two Turkish and one German Christian told the court on Monday how the victims were tortured and killed. The wives of the victims were present in the court.

According to the Turkish news network NTV, one of the defendants, Hamit Ceken, described how he placed plastic bags under Necati Aydin's head to make his death 'comfortable' before other defendants cut his throat.

Turkish citizen, Necati Aydin, and German citizen, Tilman Geske, were found murdered in a Christian publishing house where they worked in April 2007. The second Turkish citizen, Ugur Yuksel, later died in hospital. The five men standing trial, all aged between 19 and 20, confessed to the murders.

The judge in the trial also rejected objections from legal representatives for the families of the murdered men and the Turkish Protestant churches to the use of 16 out of 31 case files presented by the public prosecutor.

These files focused on the religious activities of the murdered men and published addresses for 40 other Christians associated with the victims. Lawyers for the families are also demanding an enquiry into suggested links between the defendants and extremist networks.

The trial is set to resume on 25 February 2008, when other defendants are due to testify.

Commenting on the trial, Zekai Tanyar of Turkish Alliance of Protestant Churches told Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), "As the trial is still in its early stages, there may still be a chance that the court may move towards demanding a deeper enquiry into the background and the motives behind the killings.

"Sadly however, the court's unexplained refusal of some reasonable basic requests from the lawyers on both sides leaves one with the impression that discovering the truth and thus deterring such acts in the future is not uppermost in the minds of the authorities."

There has been a significant rise in attacks on Christians in Turkey over the last two years. On December 29, police arrested 22-year-old Murat Tabuk for plotting to kill Pastor Ramazan Arkan in Antalya, southern Turkey.

Following his arrest, Murat alleged that he decided to kill Pastor Arkan after watching an episode of the nationalist TV show 'Valley of the Wolves' - a programme which portrays missionary activities as linked to aims of Western powers to divide Turkey. Pastor Arkan told CSW that he was under police protection and that he will continue his work at his church.

On the same day, Pastor Orhan Picaklar started receiving threatening telephone calls from 17-year-old Semih Seymen. Semih was eventually located and arrested by the police on 5 January when he called a friend to tell him to watch 'the massacre' on TV that day.

He was released the following day as he is a minor and after a judge deemed that he does not pose a serious risk. This was not the first time Pastor Picaklar has faced death threats. During 2007 his church was stoned and a group of youths tried to kidnap him.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide's Chief Executive, Mervyn Thomas, said: "We are deeply concerned by the rising hostility against Christians in Turkey in recent years, which results mainly from an increase in extremist nationalism in the country.

"Christians are considered to be betraying Turkey's national identity and are even more vulnerable as they constitute such a small minority. The trial of the men accused of murdering the three Christians last April is a landmark case, and a chance to show that justice will prevail irrespective of religious background.

"We urge the Turkish authorities to ensure that the case goes forward without prejudice and to send a clear message that harassment and attacks against Christians will not be tolerated. We also encourage the international community to scrutinise this trial to ensure fairness."