Christan Turks stand trial for insulting Islam, Turkish nation

Agence France Presse — English
November 23, 2006 Thursday 6:18 PM GMT

Christan Turks stand trial for insulting Islam, Turkish nation

ISTANBUL, Nov 23 2006

Two Christian Turks went on trial here Thursday and risk two to nine
years in jail for allegedly denigrating Islam and the Turkish nation
while doing missionary work, the Anatolia news agency reported.

The defendants, from the Turkish Protestant Church in Istanbul, are
accused under provisions that penalize acts inciting hatred among
people, insulting "Turkishness" and keeping records of people’s
personal information, the agency said.

Hakan Tastan and Turan Topal were charged after prosecutors received
complaints over their missionary activities among school children in
the Istanbul suburb of Silivri.

The indictment accused them of saying that "Islam is a primitive
religion and a fabrication, a source of terrorism," and that "the
Turks, who committed many massacres of Christians in history, are a
cursed tribe and will not rid themselves of barbarism as long as they
stick to Islam."

The defendants rejected the charges, saying they only sought to
spread the message of the Bible, Anatolia reported.

The judge adjourned the trial.

Missionary activities are not illegal in Turkey, a a predominantly
Muslim but strictly secular country, but are usually greeted with
suspicion and hostility.

"Missionaries, hands off our schools and our children," read a banner
a group of protestors brandished outside the Silivri courthouse,
Anatolia said.

The religious freedoms of Turkey’s tiny Christian communities, mostly
Orthodox Greeks and Armenians, are likely to be on the agenda of Pope
Benedict XVI when he visits Turkey next week.

The European Union, which Turkey is seeking to join, is also pressing
Ankara to improve the rights of non-Muslim minorities.