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Protestant churches: Intolerance urgently needs to be addressed

19.01.2012, Today’s Zaman

A report on human-rights violations against Protestants in Turkey emphasizes that hate crimes directed at them increasingly continued in 2011 and this problem urgently needs to be dealt with.

The annual report, which has been prepared since 2008 by the Association of Protestant Churches Committee for Religious Freedom and Legal Affairs based in İzmir, highlights various verbal and physical attacks against the country’s Protestants.

One such instance occurred on April 1, 2011, when a young man attacked individuals at the İzmir Resurrection Church.

“After shouting at the leader, who was standing in front of the building, he took out a gun and shot blanks at the leader. Afterward, he took out a loaded hunting rifle. Because of the intervention of the leader and some church members, the shot went into the air. The attacker was subdued and turned over to the authorities. An accomplice of the attacker was captured in Manisa. The two are still under arrest and the court proceedings, which began in November, continue,” the report states.

In addition, the sign on the Yalova building of the Light Church Association was stolen in July, and a sign was destroyed in December. There is video footage of the incidents, but the perpetrators have not yet been captured.

Soner Tufan, the press and public relations officer for the Association of Protestant Churches, told Today’s Zaman it is important to note the perpetrators of the church attacks might have links with terrorist groups, as indicated in the ongoing court case related to the attack in İzmir. He added there were more attacks against churches and religious leaders in 2011 compared to 2010. The estimated number of Protestants in Turkey is around 3,000. Sunni Muslims make up the majority in the country’s population of 75 million.

“Unfortunately, those attacked have started to choose to keep silent because no effective results have been obtained from various court cases,” he said. “Additionally, whenever a church becomes more active in the community, we see that attacks immediately follow.”

Some church leaders have been under police protection, while there are at least five church leaders who have bodyguards, and at least two church leaders have a direct phone line to a police protection unit. Several churches have police protection during worship services.

According to the report, there have been various actions deemed “discriminatory.” One example is the İzmir Light Church Association’s request to the İzmir municipality to use the Aya Voukla Church for a Christmas activity last year, since the church is within the municipality’s purview and is used as a cultural center. However, their request was turned down without an explanation. Another example given in the report is that despite the Antakya Protestant Church’s repeated requests to the Antakya Municipality for land for a cemetery, no place was assigned to them.

More.

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