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Experts condemn growing intolerance against Christians in Türkiye at largest human rights conference in Europe 


Experts condemn growing intolerance against Christians in Türkiye at largest human rights conference in Europe

Experts condemn growing intolerance against Christians in Türkiye at largest human rights conference in Europe

  • Intolerance against Christians continues to be a concern across the OSCE region 
  • Turkish authorities increasingly target Christian pastors, missionaries, and their relatives for deportation and permanent re-entry bans
  • ADF International brings cases of Christian intolerance in Türkiye to Europe’s top human rights court 

WARSAW (6 October 2023) – To highlight the mounting discrimination against minority religions in Türkiye, ADF International hosted a panel discussion at the OSCE* Human Dimension Implementation Conference in Warsaw this week. Experts called for effective implementation of legal guarantees to combat religious intolerance, particularly towards Christians. The October 5th event brought together human rights experts and civil society representatives, including Ms. Tatjana Peric, OSCE Adviser on Combating Racism and Xenophobia. Speakers stressed that foreign pastors, missionaries, and their relatives are being targeted by the government for deportation or branded with security codes, banning them from entering the country.  

“Everyone has the right to choose, change, and share their faith freely. The right to communicate on matters of religion or belief and to share with others is robustly protected under international law. Yet, we see Turkish authorities specifically targeting foreign Christians and their families and using immigration regulations to ban them from speaking about their faith. By deliberately targeting Christians with de facto bans, the government is actively stifling the Christian faith, and interfering with its commitments to religious freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination” said Dr. Lidia Rieder, Legal Officer for ADF International, addressing the participants. 

Systematic faith-based discrimination 

The number of Christians in Türkiye has diminished from 20 percent to 0.2 percent 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 contributes to this trend. In recent years, the government particularly has been targeting foreign Christian workers despite having lived in Türkiye for decades in many cases. According to OpenDoors, the Turkish government expelled at least 75 foreign Christian workers and their families between 2020 and 2023. The 2022 Human Rights Violations Report presented by the Protestant Church Association records 185 people who arbitrarily have been branded with the N-82-code preventing them from entering Türkiye.    

Banned from home 

Missionary couple Pam and David Wilson were banned from the country after living in Türkiye for nearly four decades. In 2019 they were assigned a G87 code. This code, normally reserved for terrorists, labels them as a “threat to security”. The Wilsons have taken their case to the European Court of Human Rights, supported by ADF International. 

“In a little over three weeks, Turkey will be 100 years old. My wish for it for this special birthday is freedom for all its citizens and all its legally residing expatriates to live in a country where freedom of faith and of speech is honored and protected. Where one’s ethnic identity does not need to define one’s identity of faith. Where those who agree and those who disagree can live together in peace,” said Pam Wilson at the conference.  

Christian minister David Byle also was forced to leave Türkiye in 2018. His family of seven had called the country home for more than 19 years. Authorities alleged Byle was a threat to public order and security despite his successful challenge of previous charges brought against him. After leaving the country, authorities imposed a permanent entry ban on David, which he only discovered upon trying to return home to his family. Exiled from Türkiye, the Byles now reside in Germany.   

Experts denounce intolerance against Christians 

Ms. Tatjana Peric, Adviser on Combating Racism and Xenophobia at the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights highlighted that, “intolerance against Christians and continues to be a concern across the OSCE region today”. 

Yavuz Aydin, a former judge from Türkiye, who lives in exile abroad, stated: “The past several years have been characterized by hostage diplomacy and instrumentalization of religious minorities, such as in the case of Pastor Brunson, highlighting the correlation between autocratic tendency and pressure on minority groups”. The imprisonment of the American pastor Andrew Brunson in 2016 (released in 2018) led to the flight of many missionaries from the country and fewer Christian workers coming to Türkiye for jobs. 

The only avenue for justice that remains for many of the banned Christians is to turn to the international institutions.  

“ADF International provides critical legal support to many Christians banned from Türkiye solely for speaking about their faith. We are bringing their cases to the European Court of Human Rights to challenge Türkiye’s discriminatory treatment of Christians. We hope the Court will hold Türkiye accountable so Christians can live their lives without the threat of deportation or unchallengeable entry bans hanging over them, explained Rieder.  

* OSCE = Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe 

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