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Judge Pressured To Withdraw From Christians’ Trial

Ultranationalist lawyer requests he resign; state prosecutor is also replaced.

9/14/07 Turkey (Compass Direct News) – A Turkish judge announced his withdrawal this week from the case of two Christians charged with “insulting Turkishness.”

Judge Neset Eren said at a hearing on Wednesday (September 12) that he was quitting to “distance the court’s decision from any form of indecision or doubt.”

Eren’s announcement came after the plaintiffs’ ultranationalist lawyer submitted a written request on September 4 that the judge resign. Kemal Kerincsiz accused Eren of failing to deal impartially with the case.

Exactly 11 months into the case, Eren had been expected to deliver a ruling at the hearing on Wednesday in Silivri’s criminal court, 45 miles west of Istanbul .

In October 2006, Hakan Tastan and Turan Topal were charged with insulting Turkish identity, reviling Islam and secretly compiling files on private citizens for a local Bible correspondence course.

But at their most recent hearing in July, State Prosecutor Ahmet Demirhuyuk had told the court that there was “not a single piece of credible evidence” to support the accusations against the two men, both converts from Islam to Christianity.

A new state prosecutor, Adnan Ozcan, replaced Demirhuyuk at Wednesday’s hearing.

The courthouse was surrounded by supporters of Kerincsiz and his three young clients, two of them minors, who have accused Tastan and Topal of slandering Turkey and Islam.

“If [Tastan and Topal] had been acquitted, there would have been a large protest,” said the Christians’ lawyer, Gursel Meric.

Meric, who attended the hearing without Tastan and Topal, said that the prosecution attempted to prolong the case by asking for additional testimonies.

A spokesperson for the nationalist Turkish Orthodox Church, a tiny splinter group from the Greek Orthodox Church after World War I, submitted a request to the court to be a complainant in the case. Sevgi Erenol’s request was rejected.

Erenol, known for outspoken criticism of other Christian denominations, has accompanied lawyer Kerincsiz to all previous hearings.

Meric said that Kerincsiz delivered an impromptu press conference to a number of journalists following the hearing, but major newspapers declined to report on the case yesterday.

The next hearing has been set for September 26, giving a higher court in Istanbul time to deliberate on whether to accept judge Eren’s resignation.

Scores of Turkish academics and writers have been charged in the past two years under article 301 of Turkey ’s penal code for insulting the Turkish Republic , institutions of state or “Turkishness.”

A recent European Commission report said that indictments related to non-violent expressions of opinion had doubled in Turkey in 2006, the Turkish Daily News (TDN) newspaper reported today. The report noted that more than half the incidents were raised under article 301.

Under its newly elected center-right Islamist government, Turkey has begun to discuss a new constitution that could reform or abolish the controversial article.

“The simple fact is that 301 has become a symbol of what ails Turkey ,” Semih Idiz of TDN wrote. The columnist noted that deeper problems underlie the controversial law.

“The problem is not just a question of repealing or amending this or that article, but one that concerns the quality of the judiciary in this country and the lack of sophistication when it comes to a true understanding of modern freedoms,” said Idiz.