By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) - Europe’s top rights court has been asked to support a Canadian-American pastor who was reportedly deported from Turkey after 19 years for evangelism.
The deportation of David Byle, who raised his children in Turkey, had a “chilling effect” on religious freedom for Christian leaders across the country, his defense team said.
The U.S.-based Alliance Defending Freedom International (ADF) filed the case at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, France.
Some 820 million Europeans from 47 different nations are subject to its rulings, and Byle said he hopes it will defend his right to express his Christian faith.
“Whenever we spoke in public, people were excited to listen and learn,” recalled Byle, who began as a street evangelist in Istanbul. “For a long time, we were successfully able to fight the government attempts to stop our ministry. Because we were only making use of our right to religious freedom, protected by the Turkish constitution,” he said in a statement.
However, “The government did not want us in Turkey, but plenty of people do. God called us there, He wants the Turkish people to hear about Him and to know that He is doing wonderful things,” Byle added.
Byle had faced “an unjust deportation decision in 2016” and challenged the legality of the move in Court, the AFD said. “Though he had been granted an injunction that allowed him to stay until the results of the case were delivered, Byle unexpectedly faced further arrest,” the legal advocacy group added. The detention happened “only one day after the high-profile release of American pastor Andrew Brunson from custody in Turkey in October 2018.”, the AFD recalled.
He got a new order to leave within fifteen days as authorities reportedly saw Byle as a “threat to public order and security” in a Muslim-majority nation.
After leaving Turkey, the authorities imposed a permanent re-entry ban, something he discovered when trying to return to his family with whom he now resides in Germany, the AFD said.
Byle suggested his case comes at a time of rising discrimination against Christians in Turkey. The pastor, who began as a street evangelist in 2007, noticed “growing harassment” saying police became skeptical of public displays of Christianity.
Changes in the political scene in Turkey caused the government to clamp down even more severely, say Christians familiar with the situation.
“Christian pastors and their families are being threatened daily,” the AFD argued in a statement. “By its actions, the government is creating a “chilling effect” by treating Christians in Turkey poorly, particularly those from abroad making their mission to evangelize as difficult as possible.”
The hostility faced by Byle and others is a “concerning trend” of recent years, according to AFD officials. “Open displays of hostility towards David and other foreign Christians that we now witness in Turkey are a deliberate attempt to stifle the spreading of Christianity. And [these actions] represent an attack on religious freedom,” said Lidia Rieder, Legal Officer for ADF International.
“Nobody should be discriminated against because of their faith.”
Byle’s missionary work, although legal under both the European Convention and Turkish national laws, is at the heart of the authorities’ decision to deport him, AFD claims. “It is a serious violation to use immigration laws as an instrument to interfere with a person’s fundamental right to manifest his religious beliefs,” Rieder added.
The developments in Turkey underscore broader concerns that Christians are the world’s most persecuted religious group, according to rights advocates.
“Everyone has the right to choose their religion and to express it publicly and privately. Being forced to suddenly leave the country you have called home for two decades simply because of what you believe is the stuff of nightmares,” stressed Robert Clarke, Deputy Director of ADF International.
“By ratifying the European Convention on Human Rights, Turkey has agreed to protect the right to religious freedom. We are hopeful that the Court will take the opportunity to hear the case of David Byle and hold Turkey to account,” Clarke added.
It was not immediately clear when Europe’s top court would hear the case against Turkey. The country has been under European pressure over several reported human rights violations. Christians comprise less than 0.2 percent of the country’s mainly Muslim population of over 82 million people, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).