Monday, June 05, 2017

Political stalemate holds US pastor ‘hostage’ in Turkish jail

Comments this week from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan increased speculation that Turkey has been holding jailed US pastor Andrew Brunson hostage since last October in order to extract political concessions from the United States.

Addressing the parliamentary assembly of his ruling Justice and Development Party on 30 May, Erdoğan warned that under international agreements, Turkey could retaliate against countries refusing to extradite Turkish nationals accused by Ankara of links to Fethullah Gülen, the Turkish Muslim cleric accused of plotting the failed July 2016 coup attempt to overthrow the Turkish government.
“I am calling out to the whole world. I am saying that if you don’t help us … know that if your [citizens] fall into our hands someday, you will not be able to get them back,” Erdoğan declared.
For months, Turkey has been demanding that the US extradite Gülen, an elderly Islamic leader based in Pennsylvania for the past 20 years.
Ankara is also insisting that Germany and other European governments extradite the hundreds of Turkish military officers, academics, journalists and judicial personnel who have gone abroad and applied for asylum in the wake of the massive legal probe into more than 150,000 Turkish citizens suspected of links with the Gülen movement.
But despite President Erdoğan’s face-to-face meeting with US President Donald Trump in mid-May, Washington has yet to confirm that it has received “clear evidence” against Gülen that satisfies US judicial processes.
“Let the law proceed. Put forth the evidence, if you have any, and start the trial as soon as possible. Justice is all we want.”
Soner Tufan, Association of Protestant Churches in Turkey
“The U.S., tied to institutional obligations and balance of powers, remained unmoved on Gülen,” Istanbul Policy Center’s researching editor Megan Giscion noted in an opinion piece in Hurriyet Daily News on 27 May. “Much to the distaste of the U.S., Turkey still is yet to develop allegations against Brunson.”
Brunson was arrested last October in the Turkish coastal city of Izmir, apparently over his alleged missionary activities in support of two terrorist enemies of the Turkish government: Gülen, accused of orchestrating the attempted coup; and militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighting the Turkish state for Kurdish self-rule inside Turkey.

But none of the actual charges which Turkish authorities claim make the pastor a “national security risk” have been revealed to either Brunson or his Turkish lawyer. His entire legal case file remains sealed, eight months later, fuelling suspicions that the “secret witness” accusations against him are trumped-up charges.
Back in March, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim had indicated Turkey could consider “accelerating” the jailed pastor’s trial process, but he scoffed at suggestions that Brunson’s case had anything to do with Gülen’s extradition. “These matters are separate,” he insisted to a USA Today reporter visiting Ankara.
But Turkish Protestant church leaders monitoring the Evangelical Presbyterian pastor’s dilemma remain apprehensive, calling for the prosecutors to produce a formal indictment and open a court case.
“Let the law proceed. Put forth the evidence, if you have any, and start the trial as soon as possible,” spokesman Soner Tufan of the Association of Protestant Churches in Turkey told Al-Monitor. “Justice is all we want.”
But according to Ayhan Erdemir, a former Turkish opposition parliamentarian now a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, “The Turkish government has no intentions of providing Pastor Brunson a fair trial. Ankara sees Pastor Brunson as a hostage that they can use as leverage in their relations with the United States,” he told Al-Monitor.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Devil's Bargain? Why Turkish Referendum Spells Bad News for Religious Minorities

WASHINGTON – This week Turkey voted to trade democracy for what looks like authoritarian rule. If the referendum stands, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will gain power over all branches of government. That's bad news for Christians and other religious minorities in Turkey already facing persecution.
With a narrow vote that's being challenged after allegations of fraud, Turks lost the checks and balances in their government, just barely handing Erdogan the executive powers he's craved since a coup threatened to topple his reign last summer.
"The problem is that there are serious allegations and not only allegations but evidence of electoral fraud," said Aykan Erdemir, who served in Turkey's parliament until 2015.
Erdemir, a Muslim Turk, has dedicated his career to defending minority rights in his country, including those of Christians and Jews.
If the referendum stands, Erdogan will have executive, judicial and legislative powers.
Erdemir predicts conditions for Christians, who've already fallen prey to crackdowns and persecution, will continue to worsen.
During his victory speech, Erdogan invoked religious incitement, accusing the West of starting a "crusade" against Islam.
"So he's again using this kind of belligerent clash of Islam versus Christianity," Erdemir explained. "It's the battle of the cross versus the crescent rhetoric."
"And you can imagine if you are a member of Turkey's Jewish or Christian communities you will feel very threatened because you are a citizen," he continued. "And technically on paper you have the same rights as Turkey's majority Muslim population but you have a president who continues to single you out.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Turkey: Historic Urfa Church Given to Islamic School Foundation

Yet another example of intolerance has taken place in the southeastern Turkish city of Sanliurfa (Urfa)—the historic Assyrian Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in the city is now being used as a municipality-owned cultural center and the foundation of the Islamic school of Harran University.

According to sources, the church was used actively until 1924, when Assyrians (Syriac Christians) left for Aleppo.

Locals call the church “the Regie Church”, because Tekel, the Turkish tobacco and alcoholic beverage company, had once used it as a tobacco factory.  This tobacco factory had been known as the Regie Tobacco Company in Ottoman times, and was nationalized in 1925.
It was also used as a grape storehouse for decades. After its restoration in 1998, it hosted a carpet-making class. In 2002, it became the “Kemalettin Gazezoglu Cultural Center,” named after the governor of the city. Today, a part of it has been given to a foundation that runs the Islamic school at the city’s university.
Turkey has used the historic church for many different purposes—except for its intended purpose: a church.

Erdogan slammed over Christmas message of tolerance while American missionary is still imprisoned in Turkey

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been slammed for delivering a Christmas message praising the country's "culture of tolerance" while an American pastor is still imprisoned in the country over false charges.

On Saturday, President Erdogan released his Christmas greetings to Turkish Christian citizens and to Christians everywhere. He said the country's culture of tolerance has allowed various traditions and beliefs to co-exist peacefully, Andalou Agency details.
"We, the members of this deep-rooted tradition, continue to embrace all the oppressed who have escaped war, oppression, and pressure," said Erdogan in his Christmas message. "The centuries-old tolerant environment in our country which has hosted different civilizations, different beliefs, and ideas throughout history, continues its existence today despite the various assaults against our nation's unity and peace."
However, The Blaze criticized Erdogan for speaking about hope and tolerance while North Carolina pastor Andrew Brunson is still jailed in Turkey over trumped-up charges. For the publication, the Turkish president's Christmas message is a clear contrast to the situation of persecuted and imprisoned pastors in the Middle Eastern country.

Turkey denies appeal for jailed Christian pastor

Turkish officials Thursday denied the appeal of imprisoned American pastor Andrew Brunson, who was jailed in October on claims by officials that he held “membership in an armed terrorist organization.”
The American Center for Law and Justice, which is defending Brunson, said the claims are simply trumped up.
On Thursday, they pointed out that “the charging documents do not present any evidence against him.”
Brunson unsuccessfully appealed his detention.
ACLJ said another appeal to a higher court is allowed, but it is uncertain how that appeal process will go.
Previously, the legal group said, Brunson was denied access to his Turkish attorney.
“Now, he is allowed visits with his Turkish attorney – however, due to an emergency decree in Turkey, those visits are recorded and any notes taken by his attorney are copied. Thus, Pastor Andrew has no attorney-client privilege,” ACLJ said.
“Yesterday, Pastor Andrew was allowed a visit with family. During that visit, Pastor Andrew indicated that, while he had been previously denied a Bible, he is now allowed to have a New Testament. Pastor Andrew also has a visit with U.S. Embassy officials scheduled for tomorrow.
“We are continuing our diplomatic efforts to engage the incoming U.S. administration, and moving forward with an appeal of his case,” ACLJ said.

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