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Religious Freedom | Christians banned from Turkey  

Christians banned and facing persecution in Turkey

Topic | Persecution 

The number of Christians in Turkey has diminished from 20 percent to 0.2 percent of the population in the last 100 years. An estimated 99% of the 83 million strong population identify as Muslim. Although Turkey does not have a constitutionally recognized state religion, its government is increasingly marked by Islamization and nationalism, which creates challenges for religious minorities, particularly Christians. In recent years, the government has been specifically targeting foreign Christian workers despite their lawful and often decades-long residence in Turkey. Between 2020 and 2023, the Turkish government placed entry bans on or expelled at least 160 foreign workers and their families. New entry bans are being issued all the time.  

Turkish authorities are branding Christians with so-called “N-82” or “G-87” security codes, which are used to label a person as a “threat to public order and security”. These effectively function as entry bans into the country. The government is wielding these codes to prevent missionary activity in the country. Through the government’s strategic use of these codes, the files with alleged “evidence” against these Christian workers become classified, thus rendering any appeals processes non-transparent and effectively paralyzing domestic legal recourse.  

The 2022 Human Rights Violations Report presented by the Protestant Church Association records 185 people who have been arbitrarily branded with the N-82-code, preventing them from entering Turkey solely on the basis of their Christian faith. ADF International is supporting over 30 such cases before The European Court of Human Rights.  

“It is concerning that we are witnessing increasing displays of hostility, particularly towards foreign Christians, in Turkey. These deliberate attempts to stifle the spreading of Christianity violate religious freedom." 

Case Summary – Christian Persecution in Turkey

The persecution of Christians is increasing across the world, and Turkey is no exception. Christians are the most persecuted religious group internationally, and yet this issue receives limited attention from the international community. In Turkey, the government is systematically targeting Christians and their families by banning their reentry into the country, despite their long-term legal residence. Turkey also has systemically shut down Christian seminaries, forcing the Christian community in Turkey to rely heavily on foreign pastors. The entry bans on foreign Christian workers are therefore designed to put a stranglehold on the spread of Christianity in Turkey.  

“It is shocking that a country as advanced as Turkey is now treating foreign Christians who have committed no crimes as terrorists—simply for sharing their faith. We urge the Turkish government to cease these discriminatory practices, which show blatant contempt for religious freedom and amount to flagrant violations of the rights and norms outlined in international agreements, including the European Convention on Human Rights to which Turkey is a party and founding member of the drafting Council,” said Kelsey Zorzi, Director of Global Religious Freedom for ADF International. 

Dave and Pam Wilson

US-missionary couple Pam and David Wilson were banned from Turkey after living there lawfully for nearly four decades. 

Dave arrived in Istanbul in 1980 and took on the leadership of the Bible Correspondence Course (BCC), a ministry begun by Operation Mobilization. His ministry carried out door-to-door evangelism by passing out Gospel tracts and invitations to Bible studies. Pam moved to Ankara in 1984 with a church planting team after having felt a call from God to go to Turkey a year prior. Dave and Pam met in 1986 and married in 1988. After getting married, they continued to minster to those in Turkey. Throughout the years, they faced several attempts at deportation by authorities targeting them for their missionary activity. With the help of legal intervention, they were able to remain in the country legally by obtaining the necessary visas and residence permits.  

In early February 2019, however, Dave and Pam left Turkey to spend the Christmas holidays with family in the US. When they returned to Turkey, they were told at the Istanbul airport that they had both deportation orders and entry bans imposed on them.  

Two weeks later, one of their team members received the same entry ban. It became clear that Dave and Pam’s ban was more than an isolated incident. Soon thereafter, Dave, Pam, and two of their team members learned that an additional code, called G-87—a designation generally only assigned to terrorists—had been issued for all of them.  

On 13 July 2021, ADF International filed an ECtHR application against Turkey on behalf of the Wilsons. Their case is pending before Europe’s highest court.  

Rachel and Mario Zalma* 

In 2009, British couple Rachel and Mario Zalma* (*pseudonyms) moved to Istanbul to support a new Christian church community. They invested significant time in learning the language, history, and customs of the local people. Desiring to bless their neighbourhood, their church offered free English classes and a parent-child playgroup. Donations from their annual Christmas fair went to local charities.   

In 2018, the Zalmas heard word of other Christians barred from entering Turkey after returning from trips to their home countries. Turkish authorities had begun branding Christians with the N-82 security code, a security designation intended to label a person as a “threat to public order and security”.  

Then in 2019, sometime after the Zalmas attended the Family Conference of the Association of Turkish Protestant Churches, these stories became a reality for them too. Before leaving for a trip to the UK, Mario was stopped by the police and informed that he also had been labeled with the N-82 code. “It was terrible not knowing what would happen to him. I heard the officers whispering that we were probably terrorists. I was devastated to experience such mistrust, even though we only wanted to do good for the people there,” Rachel remembers. The police let Mario stay in Turkey to challenge the order in court.  

But in June 2020, Rachel also received the code. Before the police had a chance to deport them, the Zalmas decided to return to England themselves and take legal action to challenge the code designation. As a result of documents produced during the Zalmas’ court proceedings, it has come to light that the Zalma’s case is not isolated. Other Christians in attendance at the 2019 Family Conference of the Association of Turkish Protestant Churches have been met with the same fate.  

With the support of ADF International, Rachel and Mario have now brought their case before the European Court of Human Rights.  

David Byle 

David Byle, a Christian minister living in Turkey, was forced to leave the country he had called home for 19 years simply because he shared his faith. He and his wife had raised their five children in Turkey and had become close-knit members of the community. 


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David faced an unjust deportation decision in 2016 and challenged the legality of the move in court. Though he had been granted an injunction that allowed him to stay until the decision in the case was delivered, David was unexpectedly taken into custody and interrogated by the police. He thereafter left the country and learned that the authorities imposed an N-82 code on him, effectively banning him from ever reentering the country. The Byles now reside in Germany. In a letter dated 5 May 2022, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) declined to hear David’s case. An ADF International allied lawyer is now seeking to initiate a new case in Turkey to challenge his entry ban as his visa application was rejected again in 2022 and five years have passed since the imposition of the code.  

Growing Number of Cases 

Unfortunately, there is a growing number of similar cases. ADF International has partnered with Turkish lawyers to support over 20 cases currently making their way through the domestic courts. The clients in these cases have lived in Turkey for significant periods of time, often a decade or longer, prior to being banned from the country. Most of them have deep family ties to Turkey as their spouses and children were born and raised in the country. Although the codes given to these religious workers are reserved for individuals who pose national security threats, these clients have no criminal records, and the government has produced no evidence against them. They are solely targeted by Turkish authorities for following God’s call on their lives to minister to the people of Turkey.  


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