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“The demise of democracy”: Victims of Turkish religious oppression speak out

“The demise of democracy”: Victims of Turkish religious oppression speak out

  • Number of Christians in Türkiye diminished from 20% to 0.2% of population in the last 100 years
  • Experts and witnesses highlight grave violations committed against Christian minorities at event hosted by MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen and ADF International 

BRUSSELS (13 October 2022) – The number of Christians in Türkiye has diminished from 20 per cent to 0.2 per cent of the population in the last 100 years. At a high level event on “Freedom of Religion in Türkiye” held in the European Parliament, victims of faith-based discrimination highlighted atrocities committed by the Turkish government and parts of society against Christian minorities in the country. 

 “We love the country of Türkiye and want to work for the good of its people. We are not a threat to the state, the country or the Turkish way of life,” stated Mark Smith, a Christian missionary who was expelled from the country after living in Türkiye for over 10 years. 

 Mark and his wife helped to start and lead a Turkish-speaking evangelical church for 10 years before being banned from Türkiye for “activities against Turkish state security” in 2020. Since then they have not been able to return.  

 An Alarming Trend 

 The Turkish government have expelled at least 60 foreign Christian missionaries and their families since 2020, according to new reports from religious freedom charity OpenDoors. 

Smith’s testimony to the European Parliament comes amidst a rising number of discrimination claims made by the government against Christians residing in Türkiye. After facing multiple arrests, David Byle was forced to leave the country he had called home for 19 years in 2018. He was deemed a risk to national security simply because he shared his faith. After David instituted a claim, with the support of ADF International, at the European Court of Human Rights, the Court declined to hear his case and unfortunately failed to take this opportunity to affirm religious freedom for David and many other Christian missionaries banned from Türkiye. 

“The situation regarding freedom of religion in Türkiye remains alarming. Government propagation of violations to the right to freedom of religion, and its effects, remain rife. Christians and other faith minorities are unable to exercise their right to freedom of religion. Christian missionaries are unable to return to the country they call home, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the Orthodox Church has not been able to train clergy for 50 years, and religious sites are being violated without action taken from the government. These direct and egregious violations clearly indicate the demise of democracy in Türkiye,” commented Dr. Georgia du Plessis, Legal Officer for ADF International in Brussels. 

“Today’s event aims to bring these human rights violations to the attention of the world, express gratitude for actions already taken by the EU institutions, and call for further and ongoing action,” she explained. 

In the 2022 European Parliament Report on Türkiye, the institution outrightly condemned “the oppression of religious and ethnic minorities” and expressed regret over the “continuously shrinking space” for them to “operate freely in Turkey”. 

“The situation of religious freedom in Türkiye  remains worrisome. We observe restrictive government policies on religious practice for all religious communities other than non-Sunni Muslims. We also see an increase in vandalism and violence against religious minorities and a government interfering in the internal affairs of religious communities. This contributes to a hostile environment where religious communities feel increasingly unsafe and this deserves our full attention,” states MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen (European Parliament, ECR Group). 

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