By BosNewsLife News Center
ISTANBUL, TURKEY (BosNewsLife)– A lawyer supporting relatives of three Christians killed in southeastern Turkey remained in life danger Friday, April 12, after receiving death threats, rights activists said.
Erdal Dogan, a human rights defender, has played a key role in the trial against those suspected of murdering Turkish citizens Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel and Tillman Geske, a German citizen.
They were tortured and killed April 18, 2007, at the offices of Zirve Publishing House, a Christian publisher in Malatya, by five young Muslims, according to investigators.
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC) Freedom of Belief Initiative urged Turkish authorities “to take all necessary measures to provide protection and ensure the safety of Mr Dogan” after one of the defendants in the trial, Varol Bulent Aral, allegedly threatened him during a hearing last month.
“This is not the first threat I have received as a result of this case. But this one is significantly different from the other ones and seemed to be an imminent danger,” the lawyer reportedly said about the March 8 hearing.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), another advocacy group closely monitoring the case, told BosNewsLife it had urged the Turkish government to offer protection at a time of concerns about the long trial, which began in November 2007 at the Third Criminal Court in Malatya.
“However, the trial has been prolonged due to the prosecutors’ desire to prove the killings were part a high-level clandestine scheme to undermine the government through acts of terror,” CSW explained.
“In September 2012, and just two days before the next phase of the trial, two judges and two prosecutors were removed by the Turkish Justice Ministry, leaving just one judge familiar with the case,” the group added.
CSW’s Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston told BosNewsLife that the Turkish government must “take the threats against Mr Dogan’s life seriously” and protect him.
Trial observers said the lawyer is under pressure as he linked the killing of Christians to the same circles of people who were behind the murder of Hrant Dink, the Turkish Armenian editor killed on January 19, 2007.
“In the indictment, both cases are seen as actions of the same criminal network,” NHC said.
“This network may see Mr Dogan, representing the victims in the Zirve/Malatya case, as a driving force in exposing people involved in the network. Both in the court room and in public Mr Dogan has made requests for intelligence services to provide all information they have about the network,” NHC added.
Johnston said his group had urged its supporters not to commemorate the killings. “As we approach the anniversary of their deaths, we remember the lives of Necati, Ugur and Tilman, and offer up prayers once more for their families and friends,” he said.
“We welcome the prosecutors’ determination to uncover all the aspects of this case,” but “It is vital that all who were involved in these murders, at any level, are brought to justice,” he added.
It comes amid concerns about wider pressure on churches and attacks against Christians in the Muslim-majority country.
Among the latest victim was Pastor Emre Karaali, who recently welcomed first-time visitors at his church’s Easter service –some three months after police prevented a plot to assassinate him that involved two visitors who pretended to be church members.
Police reportedly released all but one of the 14 suspects in mid-January involved in the alleged plan to kill the evangelical pastor of the two-dozen member church in Izmit, a mainly Muslim city 62 miles (100 kilometers) east of the capital Istanbul.
Christians comprise less than 0.2 percent of the country’s over 80 million population, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).
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