Christian on Trial in Turkey for Offending Islam

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey, ( - Kemal Timur, a Turkish Christian, is facing trial for insulting Islam and Mohammed, according to a report by the Middle East Concern human rights group, after receiving a request for help from the Alliance of Protestant Churches in Turkey.

Timur, 32, a member of a small Turkish Protestant church, has been charged on the grounds of the Turkish Criminal Law on Propaganda against Religious Freedom, namely insulting the books, prophets, or values of a religion. However, his trial set for January 30 at the Criminal Court of Peace in Diyarbakir was postponed to March 27 as the complainants did not turn up in court. Timur was able to present his defense to the court, stating that he never insulted Islam. When he distributes copies of the New Testament, he says never discusses his Christian faith with people. If people want to talk about it he will agree to meet them another time.

Early last year, Timur was questioned by the police several times but as his actions were not illegal nothing was pursued. On May 1, he was once again arrested and this time the police brought forward a complainant with a charge that Timur had insulted Islam and Mohammed. Only in December, Timur learned that a case had been brought against him five month previously and that there were three complainants, two of whom he had never seen or spoken to.

In 2000, there were other similar cases of harassment of Christians. In March and May similar charges were brought against two Turkish Christians, Ercan Sengul and Necati Aydin of Izmir. The cases ended with their acquittal when the testimonies of the supposed complainants turned out to be trumped up by the local police. In fact, Sengul and Aydin are pursuing cases at present against the misuse of authority by the involved police commanders.

Turkey has a population of 64 million, but only 0.2 percent are Christian with the rest mostly Muslim. The Constitution affirms the separation of religion and state and guarantees freedom of belief and worship. A government Office for Religious Affairs deals with relations with religions and supervises activities connected with Islam and it appoints and pays Muslim Imams and Hatips. Proselytism is not illegal.