A Turkish state prosecutor demanded acquittal yesterday for two Turkish Christians on trial for “insulting Turkishness” under the nation’s controversial Article 301.

State Prosecutor Ahmet Demirhuyuk told the Silivri Criminal Court on Wednesday (July 18) that there was “not a single concrete, credible piece of evidence” to support the accusations filed against Hakan Tastan and Turan Topal nine months ago.

Former Muslims who converted to Christianity more than a decade ago, Tastan and Topal were arrested for two days last October over complaints filed by three young men, two of them minors.

For the first time, all three plaintiffs were present in court to give testimony and be cross-examined by defense lawyers. At the last hearing on April 18, Judge Neset Eren had warned local police they would be charged with contempt of court if they failed to produce the accusers.

The two converts are accused of insulting Turkish identity, reviling Islam and secretly compiling files on private citizens for a locally registered Bible correspondence course. Conviction on one or more of the charges could result in prison sentences ranging from six months to three years.

In his remarks to the court, the state prosecutor declared it was clear from the defendants’ testimony that they were converted Christians committed to spreading their religion. But he noted that their accusers remained unable to substantiate their claims that the two men had cursed Turkey and Islam and then tried to force them to accept Christianity and be baptized.

Rather, Demirhuyuk emphasized, the plaintiffs had given contradictory explanations of their claims and had produced no documents whatsoever to prove their accusations.

“Just as during the previous Seljuk and Ottoman states, there is absolutely no system or practice to consider it a crime for Christians to learn or spread their religion, or to gather for worship,” Demirhuyuk said. “Exactly the contrary, within the scope of freedom of religion and belief, everyone is guaranteed the right under the Constitution and laws [of Turkey] to live and spread his chosen faith.”

He also dismissed charges that the defendants were guilty of “secretly compiling” personal data on private citizens. “If this constitutes a crime, then all the corner stores and retailers and tourism companies must be considered guilty of this,” Demirhuyuk said.

A final court verdict on the case is expected to be handed down at the fifth hearing, set for September 12.

The two converts went on trial last November 23 facing a team of seven prosecuting lawyers led by Kemal Kerincsiz, an ultranationalist notorious for filing dozens of cases against Turkish intellectuals for alleged defamation of “Turkishness.”

At the advice of their attorneys, Haydar Polat and Gursel Meric, neither one of the defendants attended yesterday’s hearing, held in the charged atmosphere just four days prior to national parliamentary elections on Sunday (July 22). Earlier this week, an independent candidate in Istanbul was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting.

Despite considerable media presence, including film crews from several national television channels and dozens of reporters from the major newspapers, no known news coverage emerged from yesterday’s hearing.

Echoes from Malatya

Tastan and Topal were present in the Silivri courtroom at their last hearing on the afternoon of April 18, when nationwide news broke of the vicious slaying of three Christians in the eastern Turkish city of Malatya.

Since the Malatya murders, Compass has documented an alarming rise in verbal and written threats against Turkish and expatriate Christians across the country. Security police protection has been provided to several openly targeted church leaders, along with regular guards at some church buildings and Christian institutions.

In announcing the arrest last week of 28 members of a criminal gang based in western Turkey, Turkish security authorities named to the media a Protestant pastor whom they said suspects had confessed they planned to assassinate.

After living in Turkey for 16 years, one European Christian couple who had been sent a death threat linked to the Malatya murders bowed to their embassy’s advice and left the country this week.

Source: Compass Direct News, Santa Ana, California and Istanbul/Turkey. A partner agency of APD.