Will Turkey Continue to Trample on Freedom of Worship?
ONE real test of a government in crisis is whether it strikes out indiscriminately against accused innocents as well as actual enemies of the state. Will the government allow itself to be swayed by the misrepresentations of alarmists who may try to use the occasion to eliminate minorities who are unpopular with them?
Turkey is at present a country struggling to prevent anarchy and terrorism. In a letter to the editor of the New York Times, Turkish Director General of Information, Altemur Kilic, says:
“Turkey is going through a difficult period, when the President, the Government and the armed forces are performing a commendable feat by combating anarchy and terrorism on the one hand and by trying to implement the reforms and safeguarding the democratic regime on the other.”
Is Turkey really succeeding in safeguarding democratic freedom? Her constitution of 1961 is claimed to be “the most progressive in the Moslem world.” She has also signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the U.N., which guarantees “freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” Yet, in Turkey, the religious freedom of innocent persons, Jehovah’s witnesses, is now being trampled underfoot. Why?
Military Supreme Court Denies Appeal
On January 24, 1973, a military court in Eskisehir, Turkey, sentenced four of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses to pay heavy fines of 5,000 Turkish lira (about $357) each. The court claimed they were guilty of violating Article 143/3 of the Turkish Criminal Code. On April 17, 1973, the Military Supreme Court upheld the lower court.
The decision of the Military Supreme Court said that the crime consisted of “joining without permission an international society with the name Jehovah’s witnesses, namely, becoming Jehovah’s Witnesses.” The decision goes on to describe as evidence against them the fact that by talking to others “about Jehovah’s witnesses and especially about the Bible it is established that the accused have accepted the ideas of Jehovah.” It is now a crime in Turkey to be one of Jehovah’s witnesses, and anyone who professes to be of that faith can be punished with a TL 5,000 fine. For the average person in Turkey, that represents a major part of the year’s wages. Furthermore, as long as a person continues to hold to his beliefs, he is liable to be punished at any time!
So far about seventy persons have been arrested and tried or are awaiting trial—and the tempo of arrests has increased!
Evidence of Misrepresentation
The Military Supreme Court has tried to show that “apart from religious views,” Jehovah’s witnesses hold views from which “a very dangerous movement against our country could arise.” To support this assertion, the court presented the following statements: (We have italicized those charges among them that are false.)
“The Jehovah’s witnesses society, which is the subject of this trial, in its publications as well as through talks is expressing views such as not respecting or showing love for the flag or emblems, not performing military service and giving permission to marry more than one wife in order to instill the Jehovah principles in them, . . . has chosen a way of weakening or destroying the national unity, national tradition, national feeling and beliefs, and finally by holding that Israel, namely the Jews, will rule over all the nations, have purposely acted to develop empathy for the Jews and are thus tearing down national feelings and serving Zionism . . . emphasizing that people should live together in brotherhood and not make war, not keeping national and religious feasts and in addition by marrying more than one woman with the purpose of influencing their mates with the Jehovah belief and divorcing those mates who do not accept their beliefs, which views are against the public order and national feelings.”
Those who have any knowledge of the beliefs of Jehovah’s witnesses know that all the statements in italics are completely false. For the benefit of those unfamiliar with their beliefs, we offer these brief comments:
Are Jehovah’s witnesses ‘not respecting the flag’? The Supreme Court of Washington, U.S.A., says, “Jehovah’s witnesses . . . refusal to salute the flag is not because they do not honor the flag, but because of an honest conviction, based upon their interpretation of the Bible.”—Stone v. Stone.
Do they ‘give permission to marry more than one wife’? A publication used by Jehovah’s witnesses and entitled “Living in Hope of a Righteous New World,” says:
“Through Christ Jesus [God] restored the basic principle of marriage, that man should have but one wife. . . . In lands where the custom is for men to have more than one wife . . . it will mean a big change in his life, putting away all his secondary wives, . . . but he must make it.”—Pp. 41, 42.
Are they “weakening or destroying the national unity” when they are at the same time “emphasizing that people should live together in brotherhood and not make war,” as the Military Supreme Court itself said a few phrases later? Jehovah’s witnesses encourage people to love one another, and there is no greater uniting bond than love.—Col. 3:14.
Do they ‘hold that Israel, namely the Jews, will rule over all the nations,’ and also ‘act to develop empathy for the Jews’? The Watchtower, also used by Jehovah’s witnesses, says: “He [God] has no dealings with any other nation, and that includes fleshly Israel . . . God has therefore abandoned her nationally.” (1958, p. 156) What about ruling over all the nations? Jehovah’s witnesses believe that it is God’s heavenly kingdom that will rule the earth.
Do Jehovah’s witnesses ‘serve Zionism’? The Honorable Richard Heath, U.S. ambassador to Lebanon in 1956, said: “The officials in the Ministry [Lebanese Ministry of Information] were assured that The Watchtower is not pro-Zionist. . . . it is of nonpolitical nature.”
Are they “divorcing those mates who do not accept their beliefs”? The Encyclopædia Britannica, under the heading “Jehovah’s Witnesses” in the 1959 edition, says, “Divorce is disapproved.” Only when based on sexual immorality with a person other than one’s mate does divorce free a Witness for remarriage. What if a mate does not agree on religion? The Witness publication Living in Hope of a Righteous New World counsels: “The Christian mate who recognizes the seriousness of marriage . . . will not seek to leave his unbelieving mate.”—P. 48.
Are such beliefs, based on the Bible, really “against the public order?” Judge for yourself.
These false and misleading charges form the bulk of the Military Supreme Court’s argument to prove that Jehovah’s witnesses are “a very dangerous movement.” Now, suppose we remove the false charges from their list. How “dangerous” do these people prove to be? Here are the charges that remain:
“Not performing military service . . . emphasising that people should live together in brotherhood and not make war, not keeping national and religious feasts.”
Do you think these matters are crimes for which a person should be deprived of freedom of worship and his livelihood? It is interesting to note that the lower military court admits that these practices are not a crime. It says:
“No evidence has been found in the beliefs of Jehovah’s witnesses of their trying to change the political or social order of the state.. . . . The court has judged, that the accused have not made propaganda in the sense of influencing people not to accept or perform national duties, nor have they tried to gain persons for the purpose of weakening the national feeling. The fact that they do not accept all national duties in itself is no crime. Neither has there been found any evidence in their teachings or literature, that they encourage disrespect for the flag, or prevent people from serving in the armed forces.”
Yet the Military Supreme Court reverted to the same charges and added the false ones. Were not the judges (Colonels N. Alkan, Y. Eryilmaz, A. C. Akgün, F. Marsan and N. Turanay) provided with accurate information to consider when making their decision? Yes, they were, in the form of publications in Turkish used by Jehovah’s witnesses, as well as much legal argument.
However, at the same time, misleading information from other sources must have been introduced. Where did it come from?
Source of Misleading Information
Consider this: One of the accusations in the list of charges was that Jehovah’s witnesses are “not keeping national and religious feasts.” Also included was reference to “the answer of the Office for Religious Affairs [a Moslem government office] in response to the written enquiry Number 119647 of December 7, 1957.”
The portion quoted from this Moslem statement says, among other things: “By making propaganda in our country by various means damage can be caused toward Islam.” Is this what the court means by describing Jehovah’s witnesses as a very dangerous movement against our country”? Could it be that for religious advantage, some are using the critical times in an attempt to eliminate a minority religion?
If so, such conduct would be contrary even to the tenets of Islam. The Koran, in Sura LX. 8, says:
“As to those who have not borne arms against you on account of religion, nor turned you out of your dwellings, God forbiddeth you not to deal kindly with them, and to behave justly towards them: for God loveth those who act justly.”
Is it ‘just’ or ‘kind’ to misrepresent people who the court itself says are “emphasizing that people should live together in brotherhood and not make war”?
The “Crime” of Jehovah’s Witnesses
The law used against Jehovah’s witnesses illustrates how difficult it was for accusers to find a pretext against them. Article 143/3 of the Turkish Criminal Code says that a person who “in this country is joining without permission an existing international society or a society which has its headquarters outside the country or institutions or branches thereof,” has to be punished. Clearly this law is aimed at controlling the activities of organizations that may be subversive. It is not designed to deprive people of freedom of worship. Article 19 of the 1961 Turkish Constitution says:
“Every individual is entitled to follow freely the dictates of his conscience, to choose his own religious faith and to have his own opinions. Forms of worship, and religious ceremonies and rites are free provided they are not in opposition to public order, or morals or to the laws enacted to uphold them.”
How, then, does the court justify action against these peaceful Christians? Essentially the court’s argument is this: Apart from religious beliefs, Jehovah’s witnesses are members of a society or corporation with its headquarters outside the country. This society, the lower military court speculates, “can at any time in the future cause danger to the Turkish society.” So the court argues that permission to be one of Jehovah’s witnesses must be obtained “as a preventive measure.” Therefore, they say, Article 143/3 applies to Jehovah’s witnesses.
But if this law can be made to apply to Jehovah’s witnesses, then why does it not apply to members of all the churches located in Turkey whose headquarters are outside the country? The Catholic Church member is not less bound to the Vatican in Rome. The Armenian Church has its “supreme patriarch and catholicos” in Echmiadzin, Soviet Armenia. Other recognized Protestant organizations have their church headquarters in various lands.
A legal error was made by the court when it held that Jehovah’s witnesses are members of a corporation that operates outside the country, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. This corporation is, of course, a necessary legal instrument, used to hold property and publish printed material. However, Jehovah’s witnesses in Turkey are not members of this corporation. Corporation membership is restricted to no more than 500 by its charter, and none are in Turkey.
Jehovah’s witnesses in Turkey are members of a religion, just as are the Moslems, Armenians, Catholics and others. To charge otherwise is to do violence to the intent of the law and make it clear that pressure is being exerted to eliminate a religious minority. Such action in any “free” country would be labeled ‘religious intolerance.’ Is that the reputation Turkey wishes to hold before the world?
Turkey’s Reputation in Question
Another error was made by the court when it relied on speculation as opposed to reality. Do the military judges really believe that this small group, whom they themselves characterize as “emphasizing that people should live together in brotherhood and not make war,” could at some speculative “time in the future cause danger to the Turkish society”?
The highly respected founder of the modern Turkish Republic, Kemal Atatürk, said that reason and science should be the only guide for Turks. Would it not be far more reasonable for the Turkish judicial system to expend its energies on prosecuting those who have brought real trouble to Turkey, rather than conjuring up an imaginary enemy?
Atatürk also promoted the dictum of “peace at home and peace abroad,” also embodied in the preamble to the Turkish Constitution, which was prepared “with full dedication to the principle of peace . . . Guided by the desire to establish a democratic rule of law . . . which will ensure and guarantee human rights and liberties.” This goal has not changed, according to former prime minister Nihat Erim.
Does the Military Supreme Court agree with this policy of peace? Then why prosecute those, who, by the court’s admission, live their lives in harmony with this ideal?
Will Turkey’s officials and court system justify the trust given them by the founders of her constitution in its preamble?
“The Turkish nation hereby enacts . . . this Constitution . . . and entrusts it to the vigilance of her sons and daughters who are devoted to the concept of freedom, justice and integrity, with the conviction that its basic guarantee lies in the hearts and minds of her citizens.”
How can it be in the best interests of the country to suppress the freedoms of a minority not engaged in overt acts against it? Suppression of minorities will certainly not enhance any nation’s claims of freedom in the eyes of the world.
How Turkey’s judicial system deals with the cases against Jehovah’s witnesses now pending before the courts will show her true position toward freedom. An article in The Middle East Journal by Mr. Erim says: “The democratic regime in the country and the people’s devotion to this kind of government have withstood several crucial tests.” Will they withstand this one?
The Christian View of Mistreatment
That those who serve God faithfully will be mistreated and misrepresented is something that does not surprise Christians.
Christ Jesus himself, who is recognized as a prophet by Islam, was misrepresented legally by religious opposers. He said plainly: “My kingdom is no part of this world.” (John 18:36) Yet Jewish religious opposers misrepresented him, citing the Roman law of laesa majestas (“injured majesty“), which was aimed at stopping political opposition to the emperor. They charged: “Every man making himself a king speaks against Caesar.” (John 19:12) Of course, this law had no application to Jesus, who went out of his way to avoid earthly political power, refusing to accept it on several occasions. (Matt. 4:8-10; John 6:15) Yet religious pressure was exerted to force the court to apply the law to Jesus. The trial judge, Pilate, even ‘found in this man no ground for the charges brought against him’; but, in the end, he weakly yielded to the religious pressure and sentenced Jesus on false charges. (Luke 23:14) Is Turkey’s judiciary going to continue to yield to similar pressure?
If Turkey’s judicial authorities sincerely desire justice for all her citizens, then they will correct their position, basing it upon accurate information presented by unbiased sources, as well as on the freedoms guaranteed by the constitution.
An Opportunity to Show Kindness
Is there anything you can do to assist Turkish authorities in their efforts to render justice? Yes. Even though you may not be one of Jehovah’s witnesses, you probably know something about their Christian conduct. If so, you have a fine opportunity to show where you stand on the matter of freedom of worship for all persons.
The principle found in the Bible at Matthew 10:42 illustrates what rightly disposed persons of any religion would wish to do when they see sincere Christians in need of assistance: “Whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water to drink because he is a disciple, I tell you truly, he will by no means lose his reward.” You can do much to refresh these disciples of Christ by making known the truth about Jehovah’s witnesses!
You may wish to make a written appeal for justice, tempering it with understanding of Turkey’s serious internal problems. If you wish to express yourself on this matter, it would be appropriate to write to the embassies and consulates of Turkey in your own country, as well as government officials in Turkey itself. Listed below are the names of Turkish officials to whom your appeal may be sent.
ADDRESSES OF OFFICIALS
President of the Republic
His Excellency Fahri S. Korotürk
Palace of the President
Minister of Justice
Mr. Hayri Mumcuoǧlu
Minister of the Interior
Mr. Mukadder Öztekin
Mr. Naim Talu