Pastor Orhan Piçaklar of the Samsun Agape Church in the Black Sea coastal city of Samsun found a notice Sunday, June 15, notifying him that he was a suspect in a court case and requiring him to come immediately to give testimony, said US-based advocacy group International Christian Concern (ICC) with Website www.persecution.org.
When he arrived at the public prosecutor’s office the pastor apparently discovered that charges against him had been hand-written and included a false identity number. When he asked the prosecutor why he had opened a case on this basis, he was allegedly told: “Because there are crazy people around.”
ICC said the "vague remark" probably means "that the prosecutor is trying to save his own skin from Muslim radicals who would target him if he was seen to be ‘soft’ on Christians."
There was no immediate comment from the prosecutors office. ICC said the anonymous accuser, using a hidden camera, had also taken pictures of a baptism and a wedding blessing ceremony at the church. Charges against him included "Insulting the prophet of Islam, Mohammed", "Insulting the police" and "Performing a marriage ceremony in the church," ICC said, citing the hand-written letter.
Piçaklar has denied the charges, saying that never insulted anyone "because the New Testament commands Christians to respect all people." In addition, he reportedly said that he didn’t perform a marriage ceremony, but only a "celebration and blessing of a couple who were already married."
ICC said it fears the pastor could receive jail time for these charges, although it was not immediately clear how much time the prosecutor is asking for him to serve. In published remarks, Piçaklar said, "I am not afraid as for the Lord in everything I can do everything. But please pray for my family because they will be in desperate straits if anything happens to me." He reportedly added that he believes, "The Lord will not allow them to be left alone, because the Lord here is daily growing His church, Satan is restless and creating problems."
The pastor and his church have been the target of opposition in the past. In January this year a Turkish teenager who vowed to kill him and "massacre" Christians in Samsun was released by a local court because he was "too young."
The 17-year-old Semih Seymen was detained over the weekend after he called Pastor Picaklar since late December, threatening to kill him, said Turkey’s Taraf newspaper. It came after previous attacks against the church, including in January 2007, when some 30 heavy rocks were thrown through the Samsun Agape Church windows, several of them smashing interior windows and denting walls, the pastor said earlier.
Just before the latest tensions surrounding the Samsun Agape Church, another Protestant church in the Turkish capital Ankara was ordered to close down. Local authorities had reportedly 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."
The incidents have underscored growing concerns among Christian leaders in a country where at least five Christians were killed and several others injured in attacks within the last two years. In April last year, a German and two Turkish citizens — were found with their hands and legs bound and their throats slit at the Zirve Christian publishing house in the central city of Malatya.
The attack came shortly after a suspected 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.
The European Union has complained that Turkey, an EU applicant, fails to fully protect the religious freedoms of its tiny Christian minority, which numbers some 100,000 in a predominantly Muslim population of nearly 75 million people, according to estimates. While Turkey is officially “secular” critics say Muslim militants and nationalists oppose Christian activities in the country. (With BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos, BosNewsLife Research and reporting from Turkey).