In April 2007, five young men tortured and killed two Turkish converts and a German Christian at a Christian publishing house in the southeastern city of Malatya. When the resulting trial began in January 2008, the court and the Turkish public regarded it as a straightforward case of overzealous nationalists killing missionaries, whose activity was widely regarded as a national threat.
But in recent months, lawyers have tied the case to a more serious national threat. Prosecutors have expanded their investigation beyond the five assailants to local officials. The murders are now seen as a plot by the "deep state" group Ergenekon, a cabal of generals, politicians, and other prominent figures accused of trying to overthrow the government. Ergenekon is already accused of plotting a national coup and killing several people, including a Catholic priest.
"From the very beginning, it was clear that some other people were involved with this, because in Turkey you cannot do something on this scale without being noticed by state agents," said Orhan Kemal Cengiz, the lead prosecuting attorney for the Malatya case. He invited lawyers from across Turkey working on Ergenekon-linked murder cases to form "a common eye" on the Malatya murders.
"We are very close to the truth," said Cengiz, who has received numerous threats for his work on the case. "What could be a bigger motivation than this?"
Turkey's small Protestant community is hailing the work of the legal team, which now includes 18 top Turkish lawyers, as a victory in itself, said Zekai Tanyar, chairman of the Association of Protestant Churches in Turkey.
"These men and women are not Christians, and yet have voluntarily and tirelessly taken on this cause in the ...1
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