November 27 (Compass Direct News) — A criminal trial against two Turkish Christians accused of “insulting Turkishness” and inciting hatred against Islam grabbed national media coverage as religious tensions mounted before the visit of Pope Benedict XVI tomorrow.
A cluster of TV cameras, microphones and clamoring Turkish journalists waited for more than an hour outside the Silivri Courthouse in northwestern Turkey for Hakan Tastan, 37, and Turan Topal, 46, to emerge from their opening hearing on Thursday (November 23) before the Silivri Criminal Court.
Tastan promptly stepped up to the mikes, stating, “We are being accused because we are Christians and because we have done missionary work.”
Formally the two Christians are charged with violating Article 301 of the Turkish penal code, under which scores of Turkish intellectuals and writers have been prosecuted in the past 18 months for allegedly denigrating “Turkish identity.”
The former Muslims are also accused under separate statutes of reviling Islam (Article 216), as well as secretly compiling files on private citizens for a Bible correspondence course without the individuals” knowledge or permission (Article 135).
“We don’t use force to tell anyone about Christianity,” Tastan said. “But we are Christians, and if the Lord permits, we will continue to proclaim this.”
Describing himself and Topal as “citizens of the Republic of Turkey who love its democratic, secular system,” Tastan stressed they had nothing to hide in defending themselves in court. “We are not ashamed to be Turks. We are not ashamed to be Christians.”
Tensions outside the courtroom were heightened by the unexpected appearance of ultranationalist Kemal Kerincsiz, a fiery attorney who intervened in the Christians” case to lead a team of four other prosecution lawyers at the hearing. Kerincsiz has gained national notoriety by filing dozens of Article 301 cases against prominent intellectuals for defaming “Turkishness.”
Scuffles Break Out
Moments after Tastan and Topal walked away with their lawyer, Kerincsiz launched an impromptu press conference from the courtroom steps.
“Christian missionaries working almost like terrorist groups are able to enter into high schools and among primary school students,” Kerincsiz told reporters. “They deceive our children with beautiful young girls.”
At this, one Turkish Christian in the crowd shouted, “He’s lying!” Several nationalist demonstrators reacted violently, starting to shove the converts” supporters and hitting one. But police promptly intervened to detain and remove the attacker, releasing him a few minutes later.
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