Turkey’s Christians Face Ongoing Intimidation

Following April stabbing deaths in Malatya, church building in Izmit vandalized.

by Barbara G. Baker

ISTANBUL, September 4 (Compass Direct News) – Police in Turkey’s western city of Izmit have arrested a man who set a fire early yesterday morning at the entrance of the local Protestant church and then shot off his pistol 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 Islamic extremists.

Identified by police authorities as Semih Sahin, the man who set fire to the church entrance reportedly told interrogators that 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 attention against 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 3:15 a.m., 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 April 18.

One of the murdered victims, Turkish Christian convert Necati Aydin, was a brother-in-law of Izmit Protestant’s pastor.

On the security camera video recorded Monday morning (September 3), 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 while 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 shoot off his pistol loaded with blanks into the air several times.

Police arrived within four minutes and were soon joined by 10 people from the neighborhood, 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 pistol. The church pastor confirmed to Compass that police authorities called him at 8 a.m. 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 May 20, 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 July 14, 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 $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 neighborhood boys plastered the front of the church building with raw eggs on the morning of July 30, 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 – as targets for acts of violence,” noted a new report released Saturday (September 1) 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 last 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.”

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