‘Turkishness Trial’ a farce, report suggests

By October 20, 2009

Turkey (MNN) — After three prosecution witnesses testified that they didn't even know two Christians on trial for "insulting Turkishness and Islam," a defense lawyer called the trial a "scandal.

A story by Compass Direct News reported that speaking after a recent hearing in the drawn-out trial, defense attorney Haydar Polat said the case's initial acceptance by a state prosecutor in northwestern Turkey was based only on a written accusation from the local gendarmerie headquarters unaccompanied by any documentation.

"It's a scandal," Compass reported Polat said. "It was a plot, a planned one, but a very unsuccessful plot, as there is no evidence."

Turkish Christians Hakan Tastan and Turan Topal were arrested in October 2006. After a two-day investigation, they were charged with allegedly slandering Turkishness and Islam while talking about their faith with three young men in Silivri, an hour's drive west of Istanbul.

Compass said even the three prosecution witnesses who appeared to testify at the Oct. 15 hearing failed to produce any evidence against Tastan and Topal, who could be jailed for up to two years if convicted on three separate charges.

The three witnesses, all employed as office personnel for various court departments in Istanbul, testified that they had never met or even heard of the two Christians on trial. The two court employees who had requested New Testaments testified that they had initiated the request themselves.

The next hearing is set for Jan. 28 2010.

This week the European Commission's new "Turkey 2009 Progress Report" spelled out concerns about the problems of Turkey's non-Muslim communities.

"Missionaries are widely perceived as a threat to the integrity of the country and to the Muslim religion," Compass said the Oct. 14 report stated. "Further efforts are needed to create an environment conducive to full respect of freedom of religion in particular."

In specific reference to Tastan and Topal's case, Compass said the report noted, "A court case against two missionaries in Silivri continued; it was also expanded after the Ministry of Justice allowed judicial proceedings under Article 301 of the Criminal Code."

The Turkish constitution guarantees freedom of religion to all its citizens, and the nation's legal codes specifically protect missionary activities.

"I trust our laws on this. But psychologically, our judges and prosecutors are not ready to implement this yet," Compass reported Polat said. "They look at Christian missionaries from their own viewpoint; they aren't able to look at them in a balanced way."

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