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Turkey : Spurious Case against Converts Prolonged

ICC Note

“But it is clear from today’s hearing that the court plans to continue this unfounded case for at least another year or more.”

November 30 Turkey (Compass Direct News) – Bowing to demands of prosecution lawyers, yesterday the judge presiding over a contrived case against two Turkish converts to Christianity for “insulting Turkishness” ordered 12 more witnesses to testify.

During a 50-minute hearing yesterday in Silivri, 45 miles west of Istanbul, Judge Metin Tamirci summoned two alleged eyewitnesses, five gendarme soldiers, two policemen and three local residents to appear at the next hearing before the Silivri Criminal Court, set for March 13.

Ultranationalist lawyer Kemal Kerincsiz claimed on behalf of his three young plaintiffs that the potential witnesses on his September 4 petition to the court had “information and eyewitness details” pertinent to the accusations against defendants Hakan Tastan and Turan Topal.

The three Silivri residents summoned are listed on the defendants’ computers as people who had requested Christian literature and a visit from a local Bible correspondence course with which Tastan and Topal worked.

The prosecution had previously requested several of these individuals as potential witnesses, but their admission into the case had been denied by the previous judge. Judge Neset Eren withdrew from the case in September after Kerincsiz accused him of improper bias in his handling of the litigation.

“A year has passed, and the court has already heard all the testimonies on both sides of this case,” defense lawyer Haydar Polat told Compass yesterday. “But it is clear from today’s hearing that the court plans to continue this unfounded case for at least another year or more.”

Stonewalled Judicial Process

In July, State Prosecutor Ahmet Demirhuyuk had called for the Christians’ release, declaring that no credible evidence had been produced against them.

Not only did the three plaintiffs give contradictory testimonies, he said, but the prosecution failed to provide any concrete proof that the two men had ever cursed Turkey or Islam.

Accordingly, Polat told Compass, his clients should have been acquitted of all the charges at the next hearing on September 12. Instead, the presiding judge’s resignation and replacement in effect stonewalled the judicial process.

Without explanation, Demirhuyuk has been replaced by a succession of other state prosecutors at subsequent hearings on the case.

The new presiding judge yesterday overrode objections by lawyers Polat and Gursel Meric against calling new witnesses. The defense team had argued specifically that those persons who prepared the official statements for the case did not have the legal right to now come up with any other information differing from what had already been presented to the court.

The prosecution repeated its claims that the Christian defendants were part of an organized, illegal group suspected of possessing weapons and using immoral means to spread their influence.

Tastan and Topal are accused of insulting Turkishness, reviling Islam and secretly compiling files on private citizens for a Bible course by three young men, two of them minors.

The most prominent charge, denigrating Turkish identity, carries a maximum three-year sentence under the Turkish Penal Code’s article 301, which the European Union (EU) insists must be abolished or changed to meet EU membership standards.

Several hundred intellectuals, including Turkish Armenian editor Hrant Dink and Nobel Laureate novelist Orhan Pamuk, have been charged under the controversial article curtailing freedom of speech.

Yesterday marked the first time that Tastan and Topal appeared before Judge Tamirci, who will require them to be present at the March hearing to face cross-examination after the new witnesses testify.

Arrested for two days in October 2006 and put on trial last November, Tastan, 38, and Topal, 47, are both former Muslims who converted to Christianity more than a decade ago.

Their active involvement in Protestant Christian ministries has been labeled by Kerincsiz, nationalist elements and some government officials as “missionary activity” that should be curtailed – if not banned – in overwhelmingly Muslim Turkey.

Halting Hate Language

After the gruesome killing of three Christians who were tortured and their throats slit in the southeastern city of Malatya last April, the Turkish Interior Ministry admitted in June that there had been an increase in individual crimes against non-Muslim citizens and their places of worship.

The Interior Ministry’s official circular urged provincial governors to take precautionary measures.

But to date, no open steps have been taken to halt trumped-up legal pretexts against Christians or other non-Muslims, nor to prosecute the use of hate language that could incite violence against them.

Last night, still another episode of Turkey ’s highly popular “Valley of the Wolves” weekly series on Show TV featured derogatory scenes against Christianity. In one scene, a character voiced the threat, “Just as we drove out the Christian crusaders, we will drive them out. If you don’t have a gun, let me give you one.”

In a thinly veiled variation of the Malatya murders, this fall the TV series even portrayed a teenage boy commissioned by a nationalist group to kill a Christian book publisher. Episodes on November 8 and 15 implied Christian missionaries were enemies of society, guilty of links ranging from the sale of body parts to prostitution.

This month Turkish Christians started a protest campaign against the overtly anti-Christian slant of the TV series, which has repeatedly dramatized popular misconceptions of the Turkish populace against missionaries, the Bible and so-called proselytizing of Muslims.