Lawyer Prosecuted Turkish Christians Plans European Court Case

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Worthy News Staff

ISTANBUL, TURKEY (Worthy News) -- The lawyer of two Turkish Christians on trial for "insulting Turkishness” plans to take their case to the European Court of Human Rights after they were fined for taking "illegal" church offerings, trial observers said in comments monitored by Worthy News Saturday March 28.

Hakan Tastan and Turan Topal each paid 600 Turkish lira (US$360) to a civil court in the Beyoglu district of Istanbul last week for “illegal collection of funds,” said Compass Direct News, a Christian news agency investigating reports of persecution.

In a statement, defense attorney Haydar Polat suggested the ruling could set a precedent crippling to churches. Nearly all Protestant fellowships in Turkey are reportedly registered as associations, with very few having status as a recognized religious body. The strict application of the law would therefore limit the ability of churches collecting funds.

Although the punishment is a relatively small fine, Polat said in published remarks that it could set a precedent that authorities could use "to harass" any church for collecting tithes and offerings. "For now, this court decision is an individual decision, but we fear in the future this could be carried out against all churches.”


Tastan and Topal, who converted from Islam to Christianity, said the fines for collecting funds was an attempt to take away attention from "a lack of proof" and no-shows by the prosecution team’s witnesses over the larger charge of “insulting Turkishness."

The two Christians allegedly insulted Turkishness by openly speaking of their new-found faith in Christ. A Turkish court on February 24 received the go-ahead from the Ministry of Justice to try the Christians under the revised Article 301 – a law that has sparked outrage among proponents of free speech as journalists,  writers, activists and lawyers have been tried under it.

The two Christians have told reporters they believe they will be acquitted in their next hearing on May 28. “The trial will continue from where it left off – to be honest, we thought they wouldn’t give permission [for the case to continue]," Compass Direct News quoted Polat as saying. "There was no persuasive evidence of ‘degrading Turkishness and Islam’ in the case file,” the defense attorney added.

Turkey has come under European Union pressure to improve the rights if religious minorities, including Christians in the country, following reports of discrimination and violent attacks in which Christian leaders and missionaries have died.