Turkey Forcing Church to Fight to Stay Open, Again
6/10/08 ANKARA, Turkey (ICC) – Last week police in the Turkish capital of Ankara warned a legally recognized church that it would be closed in three days.
The Batikent Protestant Church, located in Ankara, is one of the very few Protestant churches which have been legally recognized in Turkey by winning a series of precedent-setting court cases. On June 2, however, two police officers served the pastor with a notice from the local government that the church was to be closed within 3 days because it is meeting in a building that is not approved as a place of worship. This is in spite of the fact that the Batikent Protestant Church won a court case against the Yenimahalle Municipal Government last year that overturned the government’s attempts to shut it down on the basis of zoning code violations. This current notice is forcing the church to fight yet another legal battle over a case it has already won.
On June 4, the founding pastor of the Batikent Protestant Church, Daniel Wickwire had his lawyers open a court case challenging the police notice that they received on June 2. Wickwire, who has been a missionary pastor in Ankara for the past 23 years, said, “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.” He mentioned specifically that the Yenimahalle Municipal Government has been working in conjunction with the national Ministry of the Interior to try to shut down the church.
Wickwire himself has been the target of much hostility for having the audacity to take the Turkish Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom at face value. Officially, he has been forced to stay in Turkey as a tourist for the past 19 years while having to leave the country every 90 days, because the government refuses to give him either a residence permit or a work permit on the basis that he is a missionary.
His attempts to even apply for a work permit at the Turkish Consulate in Chicago were mysteriously “lost” in red tape. A year after he applied in Chicago his wife returned to follow-up on the application and was refused her request for information. Wickwire said, “The consulate officials became very nervous and said that they would lose their jobs if they were to give out this information. They said that if we were Muslims we would not be having this kind of trouble.”
A well-know TV newsperson repeatedly came to his church to do interviews with him with the express purpose of shutting down the church, but was convicted by the courts of trying to incite a riot against the churches in Ankara and was given a 2 year jail sentence. However, this man was somehow able to get out of having to do any jail time.
Pastor Wickwire has been involved in over 15 court cases in the last 6 years in order to keep the church doors open. Wickwire told ICC, “It is high time for the international community to speak out against such overt, blatant and continual harassment and persecution of the church.”
Would you pray for Pastor Wickwire and the Batikent Protestant Church? In addition, would you please call or write your Turkish embassy to ask them to uphold religious freedom by dropping this latest attack against the Batikent Protestant Church?