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Association of Protestant Churches- 2012 Report on Human Rights Violations

15.01.2012, Prepared by the Committee on Religious Freedom and Legal Affairs

Introduction and Summary
The Association of Protestant Churches works to ensure that all people everywhere are able to
live out the freedom of religion and belief in light of the 18th paragraph of the United Nations
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “everybody has the right to freedom of thought,
conscience and religion” and in light of the 24th paragraph of our present constitution, “everybody
has freedom of conscience, religion, belief and conviction.” According to several local and
international organizations, the freedom of religion and belief in our country continues to have
many difficulties and problems, even though these are secured under international human rights
and constitutional authority and despite having seen significant and positive developments in the
last few years. For the purpose of contributing to the development of freedom of belief in Turkey,
this report presents some of the experiences and problems that have been experienced in 2012 by
the Protestant community in the area of religious freedom.
The year 2012 can be briefly summarized as follows:
Hate crimes directed at Christians continued in 2012 and there were physical attacks carried
out against Protestants and churches. Protestants’ establishing and ability to continue to use
places of worship remained a problem. Even though there were some gains this year
regarding the establishment of associations (dernek) and congregations gaining official legal
status, a complete solution is still lacking. Along with some positive developments, there were
still problems within the framework of the compulsory Religious Culture and Moral Knowledge
classes (RCMK) in schools. Neither was there movement forward in 2012 in the area of
protecting the rights of Christians to train their own religious workers. Some foreign religious
workers or members of congregations had to leave Turkey because their visa was denied or
they were deported. The religion category on identity cards remained in 2012 which continues
to increase the risk of discrimination. The court case involving the killing of three Christians in
Malatya in 2007 continued.
On the other hand some positive and hopeful developments need to be noted. The complaints
of Protestant students being forced to attend compulsory RCMK lessons have decreased as a
result of the Ministry of Education’s informing schools on this subject in previous years. In
addition, in 2012 work began on the possibility of Christian students being given lessons on
Christianity. The textbooks and curriculum have begun to be prepared with the help of the
congregations themselves. The Protestant community was invited to the Constitution
Reconciliation Committee and was granted the opportunity to give their opinions about the
new constitution being written. There were no places of worship closed in 2012 even though
one facility used for worship received a closure notice. There were no problems with requests
to celebrate Christmas in public arenas. We rejoice that there were no attempts to hinder or
harass the holiday celebrations which were done in a format open to the public.
Verbal and Physical Assault Hate Crimes
– On Feb 3, 2012, around 3 o’clock in the morning while the leader of İzmir Çeşme Lütuf
(Grace) Church, Engin Duran, his wife and child were at home, the door of their house was
banged upon and an unknown person or persons attempted to open it. Because he had
received threats from various radical religious organizations via the internet, he called the
police. Though the police came quickly, the person or persons escaped and were not
apprehended. After the complaint was given to the prosecutor, this church leader, fearing
for the security of his life and property, decided to leave the district permanently. The place
used for worship was shut down by the church leader. As a result, the few Christians left
behind are bereft of their worship site and continue to be apprehensive.
– On Feb 25. 2012 the building of the Samsun Sevgi (Love) Church was vandalized by
someone. The man was quickly identified through camera footage and apprehended.
During the course of the hearing concerning the church’s complaint, the person confessed
to what he did, the church retracted its complaint and the man was released. It is important
to note that these types of events happen on a regular basis in Samsun.
– On March 7, 2012 a man verbally harassed and threatened workers at the Söz (Word)
Bookstore in Adana, a store that sells Christian materials. After complaints to the police, no
identification was made, even though camera footage indicated there were three people
involved in this incident. Afterwards, the police increased their protection of the site.
– On April 7, 2012 four young men requested entrance into the Istanbul Bahçelievler Lütuf
(Grace) Church. The church leader, Semir Serkek requested they come back in the
morning, citing the late hour and noting the suspicious behavior of the young men. After
this, the perpetrators threatened Semir Serkek with statements like “This is a Muslim
neighborhood, what business does a church have here, unless you recite the Muslim creed
we will kill you,” they hit him, and then fled the area. After informing the police, officers
came quickly to the scene. Even though camera footage was examined and eyewitness
statements taken, the young men were not identified and no one was arrested. After the
incident, the church paid for and installed its own security system and the police increased
their security measures. A guard was not assigned.
– On June 3, 2012 three men drew suspicion by repeatedly visiting Radio Shema’s office in
Ankara during evening hours when no one was there. Radio Shema broadcasts Christian
programming. Because the radio had been exposed to various threats many times before,
the incident was reported to the prosecutor and to the police. There has been no further
development because there was no identification of the persons involved.
– On July 28, 2012 a group protested a church that had been opened in Denizli in hopes of
closing it down. Because of the increased security measures taken by the police due to
increased threats, there have been no physical attacks. Presently the church continues to
worship openly.
– The Diriliş (Resurrection) Church Association representative office, known as the “Prayer
House” in the Konak, Izmir faced verbal threats and egg attacks throughout the year from
14-18 year old youths. Finally, after the association’s official was threatened with a gun, the
neighborhood leaders were informed that the issue would be reported to the prosecutor and
the police. The neighborhood leaders warned the young men, family members got involved,
and the young men apologized. The association decided to withdraw the threat of
complaint.
On November 12, 2012 a woman who was participating in the worship services in Batman was
verbally harassed and threatened about attending such meetings by plain clothes policemen. In
addition, the janitor of the apartment where the religious meetings are held threatened to give
information on the activities and the people who come to the meetings. The woman pressed
charges but there has been no further development. However, since the day the charges were
opened there has been no further harassment or threat in Batman.
– In 2012 in Denizli, Diyarbakır, Sinop and Hatay provinces, people saying they were plain
clothes police have warned, threatened or harassed people about attending worship,
warning them to not meet with Christians or demanding that they turn over information
about those attending the meetings. However, those who received these warnings and
threats did not press charges because they believed that no result would come of it.
– In 2012, police protection from possible attacks continued for leaders of five Protestant
congregations.
Problems with the Establishment of Places of Worship
The legal issue of being unable to establish a place of worship continues for Protestants in 2012. In
2003, the changes to Zoning Law number 3194 as part of the European Union’s 6th Harmonization
Package was intended to meet the needs of non-Muslim citizens for places of worship by replacing
the word “mosque” with the words “place of worship.” But the negative experiences Turkish
Protestants have in obtaining places of worship demonstrate the serious hindrances and rights
violations that the Protestant community faces with regard to interpretation and application of this
positive legal development as well as their inability to use their legal rights. One of the significant
problems with this issue is the administration officials’ fear of losing votes and not wanting to be
perceived as one who approves the establishment of churches. This causes applications for
opening places of worship to be rejected or to be left in a never ending bureaucratic process. In
addition it is noteworthy that requests for establishing a church or having a church officially
recognized are directed by the institution to which the application was made to either make an
appointment with the Directorate of the Presidency or go to the Directorate of Religious Affairs. The
Religious Affairs Directorate declares that it represents only the Islamic faith and only works for it.
Besides all of this, Christian congregations are prevented from using historical church buildings for
Sunday services or holiday celebrations; buildings which are held by government institutions and
being used for purposes other than as a church.
– In 2012, without giving a reason, the Izmir Municipality refused to grant permission for the
Işık Church Association to use the Aya Vukla Church for Easter celebrations. This church is
one of those in the municipality’s inventory and continues to be used for many activities
outside of church purposes.
– On May 15, 2012 a small worship place being used as a prayer house received notice from
the Izmir provincial government that it would be shut down due to violation of zoning laws.
The closure of the Prayer House was prevented by turning it into a representative office of
the Diriliş (Resurrection) Churches Association.
– The Beşiktaş Protestant Church in Beşiktaş, Istanbul applied to the Istanbul Municipality for
approval of the building they were using as a worship place and were rejected on Sept 1,
2010. In 2012 their porch roof was altered in order to widen their meeting room. The
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