TURKEY: Death threats for Protestants

Fifteen Turkish Protestant congregations and their leaders have been targeted in a campaign of death threats since 27 August.

During a ten-day period, about 100 threatening messages were sent via text message, social media and email to churches, leaders and members of the Protestant community. The threats followed Islamic State’s rhetoric, the senders vowing to kill, massacre and behead apostates whom they accused of having “chosen the path that denies Allah” and “dragged others into believing as you do… As heretics you have increased your numbers with ignorant followers.

Soner Tufan, spokesman for the Association of Protestant Churches of Turkey (APCT), said the threats targeted churches in Ankara, Antalya, Bursa and Istanbul. He explained that the community suspected the threats were from IS because of the use of terms such as “apostate” and “idolatry” and the methods of killing mentioned.

Ihsan Ozbek, head of the APCT, told Al-Monitor: “The jargon is very similar to that of IS. It’s obvious the threats are coming from radical Islamists.”

A copy of one message seen by World Watch Monitor displayed the IS flag and warned: “Perverted infidels, the time that we will strike your necks is soon. May Allah receive the glory and praise.”

A pastor who was threatened by email and text message reported, “They are saying things like they had been waiting for us to return to Islam, and that we are responsible for other Muslims turning to Christ, that our time is up and that Allah will give them our heads“.

A church in the Mediterranean city of Antalya and one in Istanbul received emails stating, “You apostate, perverted infidels, you’ve rejected the truth despite the laws of Allah and chosen the path of infidelity. You’ve not only put faith in idolatry, but you’ve dragged along others with you. For a long time, we waited for you to return to the true religion. You [only] increased your perversion and fooled other ignorant people. Be assured that Allah will deliver your heads in our hands. Neither Europe, on which you so much rely, nor Jesus, whom you ascribe as an equal to Allah, will be able to save you.” The emails concluded by warning that Christians would be caught and killed.

Most of the messages included a quote from the Quran, which threatens “those who spread false news… Accursed, they shall be seized wherever found and killed with a horrible slaughter.” A link was posted for an Arabic YouTube video, subtitled in Turkish, titled “The religious proofs why apostates should be killed“.

No protection
Despite the Protestants receiving approximately 100 threats, only Umraniye Church in Istanbul and Incil Church in Antalya have reported the incidents to the authorities.

The small number of complaints reflects the Protestant community’s mistrust of the judiciary,” Soner Tufan explained. “As a matter of fact, no protection measures were enacted for the churches that did file complaints. There has been no visible sign of showing concern.

Ihsan Ozbek said, “For Christians in Turkey, winning legal cases is already very difficult. Impunity is a big problem… Acts against Christians are not punished in this country. People are able to perpetrate acts against Christians very easily. Attacks on churches and affronts to clerics are quite widespread. Plenty of hate speech is being published without any punishment whatsoever. There is not much we can do [but] we should do our best within the scope of the law. When our people ask for advice, we tell them to file criminal complaints.”

Since 2008, the APCT has issued annual reports on threats and attacks against its churches. At least ten incidents of threat and assault have been reported to the authorities every year, but the complaints have not led to any action being taken, and not one perpetrator has been caught.

In 2014, Turkey’s Protestant community reported ten incidents of threats and assaults, including a threatening letter left at the door of Istanbul’s Yeni Umut Church while church members were gathered inside, and the breaking of windows and torching of the Kadikoy International Church, also in Istanbul. Many other threats and incidents of assault are believed to have gone unreported to the police.

The Association of Protestant Churches of Turkey
The APCT was founded in 1989 to link the independent evangelical churches that have grown up over the past 30 years and provide advocacy and support to their members, who may number up to 7,000. Most are former Muslims, known as Protestants because there is no Turkish word for evangelical.

Unlike most Muslim-majority countries, Turkey allows citizens to change their religious identity or leave blank the religion column on their IDs. However, Muslims who become Christians face social and familial ostracism, harassment and intimidation by the security forces and threats from Turkish nationalists and Muslim extremists.

Turkey condemns Islamic State
In early August 2015, Turkey’s state-controlled Religious Affairs Directorate issued its first condemnation of Islamic State as a “terrorist” organisation, officially declaring it “non-Muslim”.

Condemning IS for its “twisted” portrayal of Islam and the Quran, the Turkish government then released a detailed report to inform the public about the terrorist group’s tactics, slogans, operations and interpretation of Islam.

Within ten days, IS responded with a seven-minute video threatening Turkey and its president, vowing to conquer Istanbul soon and warning the population against “atheists, crusaders and devils who fool them and make them a slave of the crusaders“. The speaker, using the alias Abu Ammar, called on the Turkish people to abandon democracy, secularism and human rights and instead follow Sharia.

The video, in fluent Turkish, was amateurish compared with Islamic State’s usual videos, and the speaker was later identified as a 47-year-old Turkish citizen who had taken his wife and children to Syria to join IS in 2014.

(Al-Monitor, World Watch Monitor)

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