Turkey: Zoning Laws a Pretext for Harassment

Only a handful of Turkey's evangelical churches meet in state-recognized church buildings.

Authorities in nine Turkish provinces are questioning the legality of places of worship used by 40 Protestant church groups.

Under orders from the Turkish Interior Ministry, authorities notified 23 congregations in Istanbul, Ankara, Diyarbakir, Bursa, and Mersin that their rented or purchased places of worship violate municipal building laws.The church groups face legal action if they continue to meet in the buildings. Churches in Izmir, Istanbul, Mersin, and Gaziantep are already facing charges.

Only a handful of Turkey's evangelical churches meet in state-recognized church buildings. The recent action against them is part of a directive issued in August. "Some highly placed officials in Ankara are desperately trying to avoid recognizing the local Protestant church," one leader said. "The construction and zoning laws are 'clutching at straws,' so as to not appear to be in violation of religious rights."

Turkey is seeking membership in the European Union, which has demanded human rights improvements.

The head of Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate admitted in late November that 81 percent of the mosques under construction in the country were unlicensed, and 55 percent had no architectural plan.

Ten of Istanbul's Protestant groups have filed legal protests against the notice. Turkey's population of 66 million is largely Muslim.

Related Elsewhere

For more articles, see Yahoo's full coverage on Turkey.

Previous Christianity Today coverage of persecution in Turkey includes:

Christian Held in Turkey for 'Attempting Organized Propaganda' ReleasedAssyrian's family says videotaping was for nostalgic purposes with no ideological content. (July 12, 2001)
Turkish Christians Accused of Illegal MeetingsCountercharges have been filed against ...
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