Turkey Closes Down Protestant Church

ICC Note: In what has become a troubling trend, another foreigner may be deported from the country over visa issues and serving in a Turkish church. Local police officials have sealed the premises where the New Life Church was meeting after having issued a fine against the congregation’s pastor for “working illegally.” This is now at least the fourth case where similar procedures have been used, highlighting the legal struggles that Turkish churches face as there is not a clear method for churches to formally register as churches or to train religious leaders. The case is still being appealed, but the church has for now lost its meeting space, and very soon may lose its leadership as well.

09/30/2014 Turkey (World Watch Monitor) – Turkish authorities have sealed a Protestant church in Southeast Turkey and ordered its American pastor fined and deported on charges of “working illegally.”

Lawyers filed a court appeal Sept. 26 to postpone the deportation, protesting what Turkey’s Association of Protestant Churches called an “absolutely arbitrary” ruling against the Gaziantep congregation and its foreign pastor.

Local police officials sealed the premises of the New Life Church on Aug. 28. Just over two weeks later, on Sept. 14, they detained its pastor, Patrick Jensen, with order from Turkey’s Interior Ministry to deport him immediately.

A U.S. citizen living in Gaziantep since 2005, Jensen was ordered to pay 3,043 Turkish Lira (US $1,350) for violating Law No. 5326 of the Turkish labor laws, which require a work permit for legal employment status. He declined to pay the fine, contending he was a volunteer serving in the church, which he said an inspection board under the Labor Ministry had mistakenly classified as a place of business.

After inquiries by Jensen’s lawyer the day after his arrest, the pastor signed a document permitting his deportation order to be appealed to Gaziantep’s Administrative Court.
Jensen was held for 30 hours, then allowed to return home while his case is pending. But his Turkish residence permit, valid through November 2015, was cancelled, with a temporary 30-day permit issued until the court rules on his appeal, which will be conducted by legal briefs, not oral argument.

Jensen started the small Protestant congregation nine years ago, when he and his family moved to Gaziantep. Between 30 and 40 adults attend the Turkish worship services each Sunday, he said.

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