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On Trial in Turkey

Malatya murder trial defense finds footing by playing to anti-missionary sentiments. Also: the roots of anti-Christian violence in Turkey.

The stakes and the rhetoric over last spring's murders of three missionaries in Turkey continue to get higher. While some are suggesting the victims have PKK connections, others are demanding the defendants be tried for genocide.

Five young plaintiffs are being tried for the killings of Tilman Ekkehart Geske, Necati Aydin, and Ugur Yuksel in Malatya, Turkey. Seven others are not in custody but have been charged with aiding in the murders.

The trial itself opened November 23 with quite a crowd in attendance and has already stalled. The Turkish Press reports that:

The prosecutor demanded life imprisonment for five suspects on charges of setting up an armed terrorist organization and killing people. The suspects and their lawyers said they are not ready to defend themselves. Then, the judge adjourned the court till January 14, 2008.

One of the major concerns about the defense is that, in an appeal to anti-missionary sentiments, it will portray Geske, Aydin, and Yuksel as apostates who had it coming to them. Orhan Kemal Cengiz, one of the attorneys for the complainants and a Turkish Daily News columnist, wrote:

There are 31 files in this case and just 15 of them comprise information about the murder and the perpetrators. What about the other 16 files?

The prosecutor retrieved all documents from the computers of the victims and put them in the case file as "evidence." If a prosecutor sees missionary activities as criminal then it is not difficult to understand how some people can become crazy and kill these missionaries!

Furthermore, these files, which are public now, may lead to new murders because they include many details on other Protestants who reside in different parts of Turkey. The addresses, emails, telephones of many other Turkish Protestants are in the files, which have already been in the hands of the murderers. The prosecutor failed to make a thorough investigation and he has also put many other lives in danger.

I would like to give you some specific information, but if I went into all details of the weirdness of the files, this article would turn into a small booklet.

It probably won't be difficult to convince the court that the victims were at least partly to blame, Cengiz says, "From the communications sent to the file we understand that Necati Aydin, one of the victims, had been under constant surveillance and in his police record he has recorded as a former criminal for the ?crime' of ?missionary activity.'"

There has been much hand-wringing in the Turkish press over these murders and what they mean about tolerance and teen violence in their society. But the country - or at least its press - continues to choke on the distinctiveness of people of faith.

Forum 18 published an op-ed that probes the source of the anti-Christian violence. In it, G?zide Ceyhan concludes it's a result of "disinformation about Christianity in statements by public figures and through the media, the rise of Turkish nationalism, and the implicit and explicit approval both of the marginalization of Christians from Turkish society and also of actions - including murders - against them."

Keep a lookout for our January cover story, "Jesus in Turkey."

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