Two Turkish Christians imprisoned near Izmir for a month on concocted charges of insulting Islam were ordered released March 30, after prosecution witnesses admitted that local gendarmarie officials pressured them to sign prepared complaints.Judge Levent Akcali of the Kemalpasa Court of First Instance declared that no evidence had been produced of any crime committed by the two accused Christians. As employees of the Kaya Publishing Company, the judge noted, the men had official permission through the Ministry of Culture to sell and distribute their religious materials. Ercan Sengul, 38, and Necati Aydin, 28, had been taken into custody March 1 in Kamalpasa after being reported to the local gendarmarie for distribution of Christian books and tapes in villages on the eastern edge of Izmir. Both men are baptized Turkish converts to Christianity who have formally changed their religious affiliation on their identity cards.Despite two formal petitions by their defense lawyers, the men were refused bail until their formal hearing before the Kemalpasa court. The two Christians were incarcerated for 30 days in separate group cells with several dozen other prisoners.When put on the witness stand, all three prosecution witnesses retracted their signed complaints. In a direct contradiction of the written testimony read out in court, each man declared that officers from the Armutlu Gendarmarie had presented him with a prepared statement of accusations and told him to sign it.Coffeehouse owner Ergun Turan from Yukarikizilca village said he was merely following orders from the gendarmarie to report to them if he saw any "suspicious people" who were selling or giving away books. "I signed the complaint without reading it," he told the court, specifying that he had no accusation to make against the defendants.Turan's complaint, which he said was handed to him in writing by the gendarmarie when they arrived on the scene, claimed that the two defendants had denigrated the Koran, the prophet Mohammed and Islam while praising the New Testament and Jesus Christ. It also said the Christians had forced their books and cassettes upon him against his will.Another witness employed in a coffeehouse in Asagikizilca village declared, "The defendants were only beside me two minutes, during which time they didn't say a word against the Muslim religion or its prophet.""The prosecutor looked perturbed," observed one local Christian attending the trial.Attorney Sehnaz Tarakci, one of two defense lawyers for the Christians, objected when the prosecution attempted to submit sermon notes from Aydin's personal diary, along with a Muslim cleric's analysis of them, as evidence of slandering Islam. Not only was it impossible for a Muslim mufti's opinion to be considered that of an unbiased expert, Tarakci told the court, but it was also illegal under the guaranteed freedoms of the Turkish Constitution to use private diary entries as evidence.Although the judge appeared ready to drop the case and issue an acquittal, Prosecutor Mustafa Caymaz requested time for further inquiry into an earlier complaint reportedly made against the defendants in February. Judge Akcali set a second hearing for the case on May 11. The two defendants are members of a Turkish Protestant church in Izmir that was raided and its congregation arrested last September by local police authorities, who claimed the church had not obtained legal zoning status. Closed for three months under government seal, the church was allowed to resume public worship in late December, pending the outcome of civil court cases opened by the church to clarify its legality.Copyright © 2000 Compass Direct. Used with permission.

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See our earlier coverage of this story, " Two Turkish Christians Jailed | Judge refuses bail during 'religious slander' investigation" (Mar. 13, 2000)