The Barnabas Fund, a charitable and activist organization based in the UK, reported that an Evangelical Christian pastor was beaten by a group of Muslims who forced their way into his church in Turkey and threatened to kill him unless he recited the Islamic confession of faith.

Pastor Semih Sertek (58) was attacked in his Protestant church in Istanbul's Bahçelievler district immediately after an Easter service on the night of April 7. Istanbul is considered to be one of the most liberal of the country's cities.

He said:  Someone knocked forcefully on the door of the church. They were aggravated. When we opened the door, they forced their way in, mocking us. I was troubled. I asked them to come back at the next day but they kept insulting. "This is a Muslim neighbourhood, there's no place for a church", they said. They threatened to kill me if I refuse to accept Islam. One of them cited the Islamic testimony of faith and asked me to recite it. He kicked me on my chest and then they ran.

There were at least three attackers, who were aged around 18 and wore prayer caps on their heads.

Pastor Sertek believes that it was no random attack and that he was intentionally targeted. He had served as a mentor to the three Christians who were brutally murdered in the Malatya Zirve Publishing House in April 2007.

The assault on Pastor Sertek has heightened fears among church leaders in Turkey as the prevalence of such incidents increases. Pastor Krikor Ağabaloğlu of an Armenian Protestant Church in Istanbul said:

"Attacks against Christian clerics drop off for a while, then they begin to re-energise. [Such attacks] have begun to accelerate again in recent days. We hesitate when opening our doors and welcoming the faithful inside."

Another pastor, Orhan Picaklar of a Protestant church in Samsun, said that he has been living with a personal escort 24 hours a day for the past four years because of a plot to assassinate him. His church is guarded by police during services, and believers are afraid to enter the building because of the potential danger.

Turkey is overwhelmingly Muslim, and Christians, who comprise less than 0.1% of the population, face discrimination, restrictions, harassment and occasional violence. The country was named as one of the world's worst violators of religious freedom in the US Commission on International Religious Freedom's (USCIRF) 2012 annual report, which was published last month.

It quoted the Association of Protestant Churches' Committee for Religious Freedom and Legal Affairs in İzmir, which in early 2012 reported an increased number of attacks, ranging from harassment and vandalism to death threats, against Protestant churches and individuals in 2011 compared to 2010.

Turkey is a member of the NATO alliance and has repeatedly pressured for admission to the European Union. It has one of the oldest communities of Christians in the world. St Paul preached and ministered there, while several of the earliest councils of Christianity were convened in what is now Turkey at Ephesus and Constantinople. It is at Istanbul, the former Constantinople, where resides the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church.

info: Barnabas Fund



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