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Christian banned from Türkiye brings case before European Court of Human Rights

Strasbourg (27 April 2023) – Rachel Zalma* has joined a long list of Christians banned from entering Türkiye. Zalma is now challenging her de facto ban before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to counter Türkiye’s unlawful practice of banning foreign Christians and missionaries by designating them as security threats. 

“Everyone has the right to freely choose, live, and share their faith. Regrettably, Turkish authorities continue to undermine religious freedom by deliberately attempting to stifle the spread of Christianity. We are filing Rachel Zalma’s case before the ECHR to challenge Türkiye’s discriminatory treatment of Christians. Many others face the same de facto ban as Rachel and her husband. They have had their lives turned upside down simply because of their faith. We hope the Court will hold Türkiye accountable so Christians can once again live their lives without the threat of deportation or unchallengeable re-entry bans hanging over them,” said Lidia Rieder, Legal Officer for ADF International, the legal advocacy organisation representing Mrs. Zalma before the ECHR.  

Christians classified as threats  

Rachel and her husband Mario Zalma moved to Türkiye in 2009. The British couple lived there for more than 11 years until Turkish authorities imposed a security code called “N-82” on her husband in 2019. The code indicates that someone poses a “threat to public order and security” and amounts to a de facto ban from the country. It requires those with the code to be granted a “pre-authorization” to enter Türkiye by the government, which in practice is generally refused.  

The Zalmas learned that many who had attended a family conference of the Association of Turkish Protestant Churchesin 2019 with them had also been labeled with the N-82 code. One other attendee received proof that he was classified as a security threat because of his attendance at the conference. In documents disclosed during court proceedings in his case, the Turkish national intelligence agency revealed that “Since it was determined that the plaintiff was one of the foreign nationals who attended the “Family Conference” […] of the Protestant churches, and it was determined that he was operating against our national security, his entry into our country was linked to pre-permission decision with the restriction code N-82  […]”.   

In 2020, Rachel was also branded with the code. Both Rachel and Mario challenged their N-82-labels up to the Constitutional Court of Türkiye, but their cases were rejected. The Zalmas have now been forced to return to live in the UK.  

At a high level event on “Freedom of Religion in Türkiye” held in the European Parliament in October 2022, victims of faith-based discrimination highlighted human rights violations committed by the Turkish government and parts of society against Christian minorities in the country. On his experience living in Türkiye, Mario Zalma reflected, “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.” 

Concerning trend of faith-based discrimination 

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. This is likely due to several factors, but reports suggest that the Turkish government’s systematic ill-treatment of Christians contribute to this trend. According to OpenDoors, the Turkish government expelled at least 60 foreign Christian workers and their families between 2020 and 2022.   

Another such Christian minister is David Byle. He was forced to leave Türkiye in 2018. His family of 7 had called it home for more than 19 years. The authorities alleged Byle was a threat to public order and security despite him successfully challenging previous charges brought against him. After leaving the country, the authorities imposed a permanent re-entry ban on David, something he only discovered upon trying to return home to his family. Exiled from Türkiye, the Byles now reside in Germany.   

The missionary couple Pam and David Wilson have a similar story of expulsion after living in Türkiye for nearly four decades. In their case, however, they were assigned a G87 code. The code labels them as a “threat to security” and is normally reserved for terrorists.  

*name changed for security reasons  

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