Seven long years have passed since three Christians were tortured and killed in southeast Turkey, and the Malatya trial’s 93rd hearing has again been postponed for yet another 10 weeks, until June 23.
Under judicial changes enacted last month, the murder trial set to resume on April 10 has been transferred to Malatya’s First High Criminal Court, where a completely new panel of judges and prosecutors are assigned to the case. “We are disappointed,” one Christian in the small Malatya fellowship said this week. “We do not know what all this means, but it seems very unlikely that the case will finish up this summer.”
Turkey’s 5,000-plus member Protestant community expressed “great sorrow and pain” when the five accused killers were released from prison in early March as part of new legal changes. In a press release, the Association of Protestant Churches deplored “this insensitive and unjust decision,” noting that the suspects had repeatedly threatened the victims’ families and lawyers during the court hearings.
Since the young men face probable life sentences if convicted, the court ordered them to be fitted with electronic tracking devices and kept under house arrest until a final verdict is reached. Now with a new court bench taking over, that verdict could be many months away.
The five defendants were arrested at the Zirve Christian publishing house in Malatya just minutes after the victims were found dead of stab wounds and slit throats on April 18, 2007; the victims were Turkish Christians Necati Aydin and Ugur Yukset, and German Christian Tilmann Geske.
With some 100,000 pages of documents recorded on the case, plaintiff lawyer Erdal Dogan told Al-Jazeera-Turk this week that the new judges and prosecutors will need to invest hours of “very serious precision” in examining the case files. Stressing that the trial has reached its “most critical stage,” Dogan declared that this is a highly complicated and involved case. “We have come directly against the ‘deep state,'” he said, referring to the shadowy intrigues of the alleged Ergenekon conspiracy working to unseat the Islamist-leaning Turkish government. The assassinations have been linked to a suspected “deep state” organization embedded in various branches of the secular Turkish military. Former military officials are among the nine accused perpetrators now jailed and awaiting judgment for complicity in the murders.
Alarmed over the Malatya prisoners’ release on March 8, Protestant church leaders urgently requested an official engagement with Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag. The meeting between the minister and German widow Susanne Geske, along with four representatives of Turkey’s Alliance of Protestant Churches was held on March 17.
“We all openly expressed to him the issues disturbing us and our expectations,” alliance president Ismail Kulakciolgu said afterward. The justice minister was reportedly troubled by the common public perception that, “killers with blood on their hands have been set free.”
Geske told the minister that the prisoners’ release made it increasingly difficult for her family to live in Malatya, since her children could no longer stay at home alone. But she stressed in later media interviews that she had no thoughts of leaving Turkey, saying she had forgiven the killers, and that God had taken away her fears.
On the seventh anniversary of the April 18th Malatya murders, the small Malatya congregation combined their annual memorial services for the victims with the official opening of their first designated place of worship. Since the commemoration coincided with Good Friday, the Malatya congregation invited Christians from across Turkey to the opening ceremony of their church, which will now meet on the rented ground floor of an apartment building in the city. The group of 25 Christians had been meeting in their own homes for worship and prayer.
Memorial graveside services were also held on the 18th in Malatya at the tomb of Tilmann Geske and in the nearby village cemetery where Ugur Yuksel is buried. Another service was held in the Aegean coast city of Izmir at the tomb of Necati Aydin who pastored the Malatya fellowship until his death.
Source: World Watch Monitor
Father, we pause to thank You for the lives of these three believers whose lives on earth were snuffed out because of their faithful service to Christ. Thank You for the assurance that because Christ took upon Himself the penalty for their sin, and ours, they are in glory now, free of the political strife that is a part of this world so impacted by godlessness. We pray that those left behind might go forward in peace, and that they will be protected from the current threats on their lives. Protect them, Father, and grant godly wisdom to those who will make a decision on the case. You have promised that all things work together for good for those who love You, who are called according to Your purposes. Even in the midst of this tragedy and the protracted trial, we pray for justice to be accomplished, and the truth and love of Christ to be seen and proclaimed. In the name of Jesus, in whom all things in heaven and earth are held together, Amen.