By BosNewsLife News Center
ISTANBUL, TURKEY (BosNewsLife) -- A Protestant church in the Turkish capital Ankara faced an uncertain future Monday, June 16, after authorities ordered it to close down, rights investigators familiar with the situation said.
The US-based human rights group, International Christian Concern (ICC) with Website www.persecution.org said two police officers served the pastor of The Batikent Protestant Church with a notice from the local government that the church was to be closed within three days.
ICC said the move came although the church is among “very few Protestant churches” which have been legally recognized in Turkey by winning a series of precedent-setting court cases, including one last year. Local authorities had been trying to shut down The Batikent Protestant Church on charges of "zoning code violations."
ICC said the development are "forcing the church to fight yet another legal battle over a case it has already won." The rights group said founding American pastor Daniel Wickwire already asked his lawyers to challenge the police notice they received on June 2.
Wickwire, who has been a missionary pastor in Ankara for 23 years, said in a statement that, "It is very obvious that what is happening to our church is a pre-meditated, continuous and jointly orchestrated...[It is] a direct attack against the Church as a whole in Turkey by the right-wing Islamic government that is currently in control in Turkey."
He said the local Yenimahalle Municipal Government issuing the notice has been working in conjunction with the national Ministry of the Interior to try to shut down the church. ICC said Wickwire has also been the target “of much hostility for having the audacity to take the Turkish Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom at face value.”
Officially, he has reportedly been forced to stay in Turkey as a tourist for the past 19 years while having to leave the country every 90 days. "The government refuses to give him either a residence permit or a work permit on the basis that he is a missionary."
His attempts to even apply for a work permit at the Turkish Consulate in Chicago were mysteriously “lost” in red tape, ICC told BosNewsLife in a statement. “A year after he applied in Chicago his wife returned to follow-up on the application and was refused her request for information.” Wickwire has said in published remarks that, "The consulate officials became very nervous and said that they would lose their jobs if they were to give out this information. They said that if we were Muslims we would not be having this kind of trouble."
A television newsman also came to his church to do interviews with him "with the express purpose of shutting down the church,” but was convicted of trying to "incite a riot against the churches in Ankara" and given a two year jail sentence, ICC said. "However, this man was somehow able to get out of having to do any jail time."
Pastor Wickwire has been involved in over 15 court cases in the last sic to keep the church doors open. ICC quoted Wickwire as saying that,"It is high time for the international community to speak out against such overt, blatant and continual harassment and persecution of the church." ICC said it had asked its supporters around the world "to pray" for Pastor Wickwire and his church and to express concerns with Turkish embassies in their countries.
The church case comes at a time when Turkish Christians also closely monitor seven suspects on trial for murdering three Christians at a publishing house in April 2007. This month the hearing in eastern Turkey marked the first time the five jailed murderers and two accused accomplices appeared together in court to be cross-examined over contradictions among their individual court testimonies.
In addition to the five accused murderers – Hamit Ceker, Cuma Ozdemir, Abuzer Yildirim, Salih Gurler and Emre Gunaydin – two others, Kursat Kocadag and Mehmet Gokce, face charges as accomplices.
Turkish Christians Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel and German Christian Tilmann Geske were tied up, stabbed and tortured for several hours before their throats were slit at Zirve Publishing offices.
There has been international concern about the treatment of minority Christians in Turkey, and the European Union has made clear that religious freedom is a key condition for the country to become a full fledged member of the organization.
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