Articles from the Turkish Press
Church building in Izmit vandalised.
Police in Turkey's western city of Izmit have arrested a man who set a fire early on the morning of 3 September at the entrance of the local Protestant church and then fired his handgun several times.
The church's pastor is the brother-in-law of one of the converts to Christianity murdered in Malatya in April and has been targeted by fanatical Muslims.
Identified by police authorities as Semih Sahin, the man who set fire to the church entrance reportedly told interrogators he had been "bothered" by what he heard and read in the newspapers about the Izmit Protestant Church, so he wanted to "make a scene" to arouse public opposition to it.
According to local police, who described the apprehended suspect as a "psychopath", Sahin has a previous criminal and prison record. He was brought before a local prosecutor, formally charged and jailed yesterday afternoon.
Yesterday's incident, which occurred at 3:15am, was recorded on a security camera installed by the church several months ago, in the wake of the gruesome stabbing deaths of three Protestant Christians in Malatya on 18 April.
One of the murdered victims, Turkish Christian convert Necati Aydin, was a brother-in-law of Izmit Protestant Church's pastor.
On the security camera video recorded on 3 September, Sahin walked up to the door of the church, laid down a box and some other flammable materials, poured liquid over the pile and lit it whilst smoking a cigarette.
He then walked off, returning shortly to find the pile burning brightly on the stone steps. Stepping away down the street, he proceeded to fire his handgun, loaded with blanks, into the air several times.
Police arrived within four minutes and were soon joined by 10 people from the neighbourhood, but the fire was not put out until the fire department came minutes later.
The suspect, whom police said was about 30 years old, was apprehended on a nearby street shortly after the incident still carrying the handgun.
The church pastor confirmed to reporters that police authorities called him at 8:00am to inform him of the incident.
Although the fire blackened the entrance and steps to the church, there was no structural damage to the building, the pastor said.
The Izmit pastor has been provided with an armed government security guard since the last week of April, when he returned home with his family after his brother-in-law's funeral.
On 20 May, the testimony of one of the Malatya murder suspects was leaked to the Turkish press, stating that he had planned to murder the Izmit pastor next.
The pastor was again targeted in the Turkish media on 14 July, when police authorities in Izmit's Kocaeli province reported the round-up of a mafia-style gang of 23 suspects involved in assassinations of businessmen and a rash of other illegal activities in the region.
After his capture, gang leader Ismail Halil was interrogated about the group's alleged plans to murder the Izmit pastor in the near future, for which they were to receive US$1 million, according to Sabah newspaper.
Halil reportedly claimed his legal right to remain silent on this question.
In a previous incident this summer, a group of neighbourhood boys plastered the front of the church building with raw eggs on the morning of 30 July, just as the church began a week-long English club for its young people.
Police identified the culprits after viewing the security camera footage, bringing them from their homes to clean up the mess.
"The Protestant community is negatively affected by contemptuous, disinformative media coverage which also has the effect of showing Christians – and in particular persons who have converted to Christianity [from Islam] – as targets for acts of violence," noted a new report released 1 September by Turkish Protestants.
Issued by the Legal Committee of the Alliance of Protestant Churches of Turkey, the 'summary of concerns' called for the Turkish authorities to create a "culture of tolerance" toward its minorities.
"In the past year there have been scores of threats or attacks on congregations and church buildings," the report said.
"The perpetrators have not been found."
The report concluded: "The state should be guaranteeing freedom of religion and the security of individuals and property."
TURKEY – Judge pressured to quit Christians' trial
State prosecutor is also replaced
Judge Neset Eren said at a hearing on 12 September that he was quitting to "distance the court's decision from any form of indecision or doubt".
Judge Eren's announcement came after the plaintiffs' ultranationalist solicitor submitted a written request on 4 September that the judge resign. Kemal Kerincsiz accused Judge Eren of failing to deal impartially with the case.
Exactly 11 months into the case, Judge Eren had been expected to deliver a ruling at the hearing on 12 September in Silivri's criminal court, 45 miles west of Istanbul.
In October 2006, Hakan Tastan and Turan Topal were charged with insulting Turkish identity, reviling Islam and secretly compiling files on private citizens for a local Bible correspondence course.
But at their most recent hearing in July, State Prosecutor Ahmet Demirhuyuk had told the court there was "not a single piece of credible evidence" to support the accusations against the two men, both of whom are converts from Islam to Christianity.
A new state prosecutor, Adnan Ozcan, replaced Mr Demirhuyuk at the September hearing.
The courthouse was surrounded by supporters of Mr Kerincsiz and his three young clients, two of them minors, who have accused Hakan and Turan of slandering Turkey and Islam.
Mr Meric, who attended the hearing without Hakan and Turan, said the prosecution attempted to prolong the case by asking for additional testimonies.
A spokesperson for the nationalist Turkish Orthodox Church, a tiny group that split from the Greek Orthodox Church after World War I, submitted a request to the court to be a complainant in the case. Sevgi Erenol's request was rejected.
Mr Erenol, known for outspoken criticism of other Christian denominations, has accompanied Mr Kerincsiz to all previous hearings.
Mr Meric said Mr Kerincsiz delivered an impromptu press conference to a number of journalists following the hearing, but major newspapers declined to report on the case on 13 September.
The next hearing has been set for 26 September, giving a higher court in Istanbul time to deliberate on whether to accept Judge Eren's resignation.
Deep judiciary problems
Scores of Turkish academics and writers have been charged in the past two years under article 301 of Turkey's penal code for insulting the Turkish Republic, institutions of state or "Turkishness".
A recent European Commission report said that indictments related to non-violent expressions of opinion had doubled in Turkey in 2006, the Turkish Daily News (TDN) newspaper reported on 14 September.
The report noted that more than half the incidents were raised under article 301.
Under its newly elected centre-right Islamist government, Turkey has begun to discuss a new constitution that could reform or abolish the controversial article.
"The simple fact is that 301 has become a symbol of what ails Turkey," Semih Idiz of TDN wrote.
The columnist noted that deeper problems underlie the controversial law.
"The problem is not just a question of repealing or amending this or that article, but one that concerns the quality of the judiciary in this country and the lack of sophistication when it comes to a true understanding of modern freedoms," said Mr Idiz.