The German man, 46-year-old interpreter Tilman Ekkehart Geske, had been living in Malatya since 2003. Two other Turkish Christians, Necati Aydin, 35, and Ugur Yuksel,32, – were also found tied up and their throats slit in the offices of the small Zirve Christian publishing house in Malatya on April 18, 2007. Lawyers for the suspects had asked more time to prepare themselves ahead of what was the second day of the trial.
Prosecutors have said the suspects appeared to have been motivated by nationalist and religious reasons. The state prosecutor’s office has demanded life sentences for the five main suspects. However there has been international and domestic criticism about the way the trial was handled. Turkish media reported for weeks on alleged "numerous inconsistencies" in the investigations by authorities into the case, raising doubts among human rights watchers and church officials about Turkey’s willingness to tackle persecution of Christians.
Spokesman Glenn Penner of Christian advocacy group Voice Of the Martyrs Canada warned that "If the killers are allowed to simply get away with lesser charges, or it’s seen that these murders were somehow justified on the basis that these Christians were involved in missionary activity, then Turkish Christians are certainly going to feel that they’re not equal members of society. [They will feel] that their religious activities are going to continue to be under threat."
Monday’s trial resumed just days after another Turkish court, citing age reasons, released a Turkish teenager who vowed to kill the pastor of a Protestant church and “massacre” Christians in the Black Sea coastal city of Samsun. The 17-year-old Semih Seymen was briefly detained after he called Pastor Orhan Picaklar of the Samsun Agape Church several times since late December, threatening to kill him, BosNewsLife established.
Pastor Picaklar told BosNewsLife this was no isolated incident. "Our church has been stoned number of times between since 2000," he said. "In 2004, a local mayor strongly objected to our church, saying he would not permit a Christian Church in his area. In 2005, I was abducted by unidentified ultra nationalist youth from my apartment flat after midnight. They threatened me with death if I continue to work as pastor. After I was released the following morning, I reported the incident to a local police chief. However he demanded that an investigation could only take place if I provided the evidence."
In 2006, militants also "tried to kidnap my son on the way to school," the pastor added. And, last year, he apparently received "several e-mails from ultranationalist underground elements
calling themselves Brigade of Revenge, threatening to kill me."
Pastor Picaklar claimed he was "targeted by Islamic militants" for allegedly "insulting Muslim prophet Mohammed" which he stressed "is totally untrue." He said authorities so far refused to investigate these cases.
"Defenseless and innocent Christians are being killed cowardly an viciously by murderous and blood thirsty [Muslim] militants," he said, a clear reference to the April killings of a German and two Turkish Christians. Earlier, a nationalist killed Armenian Christian editor Hrant Dink. In February 2006, a Turkish teenager shot a Catholic priest dead as he prayed in his church, and two other Catholic priests were attacked later that year.
"Those killers have been praised by some Turkish musicians in music and songs as if they are national heroes," complained Pastor Picaklar. In addition, he said, "Christian brothers and
sister are being continuously harassed by civilian police officers who also visit their parents, friends, neighbors and business associates."
The relatives of Christians are "being told that their child or friend has become an infidel and should be isolated from the community…" He said the "psychological pressure" had some impact as "many believers break with the church."
The European Union, which Turkey wants to join, has said the government should do more to protect Christians, who comprise less than one percent of the 70-million population. (With BosNewsife Research and BosNewsLife News Center).