Turkish Christian Makes Slow Improvement Following Brutal Beating

Monday, January 12, 2004

Court hears ‘hard evidence’ against nationalist attackers.
by Barbara G. Baker

ISTANBUL, January 12 (Compass) -- After being beaten into a coma three months ago for alleged “missionary propaganda,” Turkish Christian Yakup Cindilli is slowly improving from a nearly helpless state at his home, where his family has given him constant care for the past month.

A third trial hearing against Cindilli’s nationalist attackers is scheduled on Wednesday before a criminal court in Orhangazi, in northwestern Turkey.

The injured Turk has recognized some members of his family and is now starting to speak, his attending doctor confirmed last week. Although he is still unable to care for himself, his regular contact with close relatives will be “very vital” to his long-term improvement, his physician said.

Cindilli was discharged on December 2 from the intensive care unit of Bursa State Hospital, shortly after he began to emerge from total unconsciousness. He was transferred several days later to the care of his family in Orhangazi, a small town 30 miles away.

Two weeks later, the Orhangazi Criminal Court of First Instance held a second hearing on December 17 against four men charged with assault and battery against Cindilli.

Cindilli, 32, was hospitalized in the third week of October after right-wing nationalists linked with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) beat him severely on his head and face. According to local newspaper reports, the attackers accused Cindilli of distributing New Testaments and “doing missionary work.”

One of his attackers was Metin Yildiran, president of the local MHP chapter. Characterized by an Islamic-tinged version of nationalism, the far-right political party has been linked for decades with “neo-fascist” violence in Turkey.

Although Yildiran was released at the first court hearing on November 18, two other suspects, Ibrahim Sekmen and Huseyin Bektas, remain jailed at Gemlik Prison. A fourth suspect who is under 18 years of age, Gokhan Sen, was not imprisoned.

About 60 MHP sympathizers gathered at the courthouse on December 17 in a show of support for the jailed attackers but were refused admission to the hearing. According to a December 19 report in the Bursa Hakimiyet newspaper, the group included the provincial MHP chairman, Necati Ozensoy, and other local right-wing leaders.

In the end, only a few relatives of Cindilli and the defendants were summoned by name and allowed to observe the proceedings.

After the trial adjourned, the crowd of MHP sympathizers began shouting angrily when they learned that the two defendants had not been released. “Someone shouted abuse at Yakup’s father for having a Christian son,” one eyewitness told Compass, “but the police intervened.”

When pressed by the crowd as to why the defendants had been remanded back to jail custody, the defense lawyer stated there was “hard evidence” against his clients.

According to official court documents, the attack against Cindilli actually occurred on October 19, four days earlier than first reported. The injured Christian and his friend Tufan Orhan were sitting in a coffeehouse that morning when they were summoned outside, one at a time.

Reportedly the attackers demanded in turn that each man renounce his Christian faith. When Cindilli refused, they dragged him to a shadowed area opposite the Orhangazi mosque and gave him a severe beating. Orhan is said to have complied with their demand, however, so they released him.

Although Orhan changed his initial statement and later declared to the court he did not know the identity of their attackers, a waiter at the coffeehouse who witnessed the incident identified the men involved, including Yildiran.

Cindilli came to faith in Christ less than two years ago after he began telephoning “Alo Dua,” a prayer hotline ministry run by local Turkish Christians. He occasionally made the trip to Bursa to visit the Protestant fellowship there.

The Turkish convert’s conservative Muslim family had been opposed to his new beliefs, at one time throwing out his Christian books and demanding that he return to Islam. But his father and a sister jointly filed a criminal case against his attackers, blaming the local MHP leadership and party youth for Cindilli’s critical injuries.

“Yakup’s family is under a lot of pressure from their community,” the pastor of the Bursa Protestant Church commented, “and at the same time, they are very distraught to see Yakup in such a helpless state.”