Turkey- Article 301: Thou Shall Not Share Christ

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    Article 301: Thou Shall Not Share Christ

    CBN News
    November 29, 2006

    CBNNews.com – ISTANBUL, Turkey – For Hakan Tastan and Turan Topal, two best friends, enjoying a casual walk along the streets of Istanbul has taken on new meaning. In the next couple of months, the two converts from Islam to Christianity could face the prospect of spending up three years behind bars.

    “But we are not afraid because we know that our love for Jesus Christ takes away all of our fears,” Topal said. “Even if we die, we will be rewarded in heaven with eternal life.”

    On Nov. 23, a criminal court charged the men under Article 301 of the Turkish penal code for allegedly insulting “Turkishness” and inciting hate while “trying to convert other Turks to Christianity.”

    “We are not guilty but, yes, we do share our faith because the Bible tells us that we are free to talk about the love of Christ to anyone who asks for it,” Tastan said.

    Article 301 has been widely criticized by human rights groups for restricting freedom of speech. European officials have demanded that Turkey amend the article if it hopes to join the European Union. Tastan and Topal’s case goes to trial in January.

    The status of Christians in Turkey has long been difficult. Converts are often viewed here as spies for America. Those caught sharing the Gospel are often detained. And those who convert to Christianity are accused of betraying Turkish heritage.

    “We are all Turks and proud of it,” Topal said. “God created humans in His likeness, including the Turkish people.”

    Turkey is a secular republic and the constitution provides for freedom of religion. Still, Christians face discrimination. Non-Muslims are barred from joining the police force or the military. Top government positions are off limits to them.

    Ironically, Christianity has deep roots in what is today Turkey.

    When it was built in 530 A.D., the Hagia Sophia stood as the largest church in all of the Christian world. In fact, it was so for almost a thousand years. But that lasted only untill about the 15th century, when the Ottoman rule came into power and Ottoman rulers converted the church into a mosque. Today you see surrounding the Hagia Sophia four, five huge Muslim pillars.

    In 1935 it was turned into a museum. Some radical Muslims are demanding that the building be declared a mosque and opened for Islamic prayers. Some also see the Pope’s visit to the Hagia Sophia today as a sign of Christian ambitions to reclaim the structure as a church.

    During the 20th century Christians made up about 20 percent of the Turkish population. Today, however, Christians make up 0.6 percent of the nearly 66 million people who belong to this nation.

    There are an estimated 3,500 evangelical Christians here in Turkey. The majority of Turks are Muslims and their houses of worship are mushrooming all over the place, often paid for by Saudi Arabia. At last count, there were 70,000 mosques dotting the Turkish landscape. But the government rarely allows the building of new churches.

    Just ask Ahmet Guvener, a Turkish pastor, what happened when he tried to build a small church in southeastern region of Turkey.

    “I was tried in criminal court and given a sentence of six months to two years in prison,” he said. “The case was eventually dismissed.”

    But the hardships continued.

    “There was so much press about my case,” he said. “People were accusing us of all sorts of things. This wore us out as a family.”

    Many Christians are forced to worship in so-called “apartment churches.” Despite these challenges, the church is experience some growth.

    “We see more young people who are becoming Christians,” said Fatima, a Christian leader. “Internet evangelism, Bible distribution, showing the Jesus film and Christian programs on satellite television are exposing people to the Gospel.”

    On Tuesday, the Pope met with Turkey’s highest ranking Muslim leader and appealed for greater religious freedom and protection for minority faith groups. The pontiff said guaranteeing such rights are needed for building a just society.

    Tastan and Topal say their case will test Turkey’s commitment to building such a society.

    “We’ll see what happens during our trial in January and whether this nation really believes in the principles of human rights and religious freedom,” Tastan said.

    icon-video.gif It appears that Turkey, a once Christian nation, is slowly but surely being transformed into a radical Islamic nation. Should the developments in Turkey be taken as a warning to other Christian nations? Watch this report for Pat Robertson’s views on the matter.


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