If you want to know how to strengthen your religious freedom, you need to start by knowing what is happening. And then the next step is to share the information with others so that they may be willing to help.
The Association of Protestant Churches in Turkey (EEA’s member body in Turkey) really understand these two points.
For the past 20 years, whenever the Protestant community meet together, they are encouraged to share their religious freedom news, both the good and the bad. That way they have been able to stand together in prayer and solidarity. Trust has developed and everyone knows how to ask for help if they need it. The Association created a legal committee who would be able to employ lawyers in order to take more serious cases to court.
2007 brought tragedy with the brutal murder of three brothers in Malatya. This horrific incident shone a light on the situation of Christians in Turkey. There was much interest from the international diplomatic community and media. So the Association decided to start publishing a more formal religious freedom report each year.
If you want a fabulous example of how to produce a national report on religious freedom, do have a look at what the Protestant Association of Churches in Turkey writes. See here for their 2019 report. It is clear, respectful, easy to read and with just enough evidence to illustrate its points but keeping the whole text concise.
Umut Sahin, general secretary of the Association, is the main author. Throughout the autumn each year, he asks his members and also the wider Protestant community to send in information about what has been happening. They do so because they trust the Association and also know that these reports are well respected and influential. All information received is checked for accuracy. This is not because of lack of trust but simply because the truth can get confused in the communication chain. And it is absolutely vital to preserve the report’s reputation for reliability.
The report goes to the Turkish government, politicians and media. It states clearly that there are no political motives behind the text but simply the desire to promote religious freedom for all. Foreign embassies, the European Union, United Nations, Christian partners and human rights NGOs also receive copies. There are always positive comments and questions as a reaction.
So what is the religious freedom situation for Protestant Christians in Turkey? Well the report explains. But, in brief, the Association would say that yes there are difficulties but everyone in Turkey has difficulties. And actually, it is covid-19 which is the biggest problem at the moment. It would be wonderful to see an end to the aggressively negative media coverage, the deportation of many foreign members of the Protestant community, the legal uncertainties and other restrictions. But, there is good cooperation with the police to provide protection where necessary.
And, despite all of the challenges, the community grows. In the last few weeks, the authorities in Izmir have hugely appreciated the volunteering efforts of Christians in response to the earthquake there. And, across the country, many Turks and also refugees show interest in Jesus.