Protestants in Turkey asked to spy on community

Protestants in Turkey asked to spy on community
U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson, after being freed form prison, and his wife Norrine arrive at the airport in Izmir, Turkey, October 12, 2018. (Reuters)
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Updated 25 February 2021

Protestants in Turkey asked to spy on community

Protestants in Turkey asked to spy on community
  • The group claimed that the trend was especially common in the east and southeast region to provide information about congregation members and churches themselves
  • Other violations summarized in the report include more than 100 foreign Protestants being denied entry into the country, leaving several posts in their churches vacant

ISTANBUL: The Association of Protestant Churches in Turkey has released their annual report, highlighting the challenges and violations of religious freedom they faced over the past year. Chief among these violations are allegations that members of the community have been offered work as spies and informants.

The group claimed that the trend was especially common in the east and southeast region to provide information about congregation members and churches themselves. The association described the allegations as “alarming” and that it shows the extent of state intrusion and suspicion of their activities. 

Dr. Mine Yildirim, head of the Freedom of Belief Initiative and Eurasia Civil Society Program at Norwegian Helsinki Committee, said reports of requests for spying from persons who introduce themselves as civilian police or intelligence services are alarming but not necessarily new.

“If these are public officials, it is alarming that the authorities approach their citizens whose worship places are public with such suspicion. If these are not public officials, again, the situation is alarming because it would indicate that some people are ‘playing the role of the state’ to monitor and intimidate the Protestant community,” she told Arab News. 

Experts emphasized the need for an urgent explanation from public authorities and a rise in protection of churches.

Other violations summarized in the report include more than 100 foreign Protestants being denied entry into the country, leaving several posts in their churches vacant. 

“The denial of visas to foreign religious workers has become a policy for the Turkish government in recent years. Considering the obstacles before training religious teachers and leaders for non-Muslim communities, it is understandable that the Protestant community partly relies on foreign religious workers. Not allowing foreign religious workers to remain in Turkey means that Turkish citizens are impacted,” Yildirim said. 

Turkey does not have a procedure whereby foreign religious workers can apply for a religious worker visa, similar to systems in place in other countries where Turkish religious workers can appeal to work. 

“In some of these cases, the petitioners were accused of jeopardizing Turkey’s national interest and being missionaries, and their attendance to our foundation’s events was presented as criminal evidence,” the report said.

The entry bans, denial of residency permit extensions and deportations of foreigners affiliated with Protestant churches in Turkey have been a trend since 2019. 

This pattern has pushed Protestant communities to train clergy from indigenous groups because it was increasingly difficult to host foreign-born pastors, but it is legally impossible to open religious schools to train teachers and religious workers. 

Ankara’s pastor immigration restrictions is seen as an attempt to deprive the churches of pastors, pressuring the Protestant community. 

Protestant churches are public institutions that operate under international law and transparency standards, the report noted. 

Protestant churches lacked physical space available for their worship, especially under coronavirus restrictions.

It is estimated that there are about 7,000 members of Protestant denominations with six foundations and about 170 churches and communities around the country. 

US pastor Andrew Brunson, who was the pastor of a Protestant church in the western city of Izmir, was arrested in October 2016 on terror charges before being freed after two years following a major spat between Ankara and Washington. Since the Brunson incident, foreign clergy in the country have been mostly treated with suspicion and as a danger to Turkey’s public order.  

Yildirim thinks that the common features of both practices against foreign religious workers and intelligence gathering are suspicion and an inability to address what is suspected within Turkey’s legal framework. 

“In the case of foreign religious workers, we know that none of these workers have been convicted of any crime in Turkey. Whatever their actions in terms of religious activity, there has not been any court case where these individuals have been found to violate Turkey’s law or anyone’s human rights including freedom of religion or belief,” she said. 

Similarly, Yildirim added, if public authorities are seeking to infiltrate Protestant communities, this shows that they cannot address whatever they suspect within the framework of the law. 

“Turkey’s laws relating to associative rights, as well as many provisions of the Turkish Civil Code and Turkish Criminal Code provide a legal basis whereby activities that are unlawful can be prosecuted. We do not see any investigation that has led to a court case against churches or associations or individuals affiliated with the Protestant community,” she noted. 

According to Yildirim, Turkish authorities must examine the way they approach Protestants, including foreign religious workers, and adopt a human rights-based approach.

“Starting an open dialogue between the authorities and the community would be a good step forward. These acts of suspicion unfortunately deeply hurt the Protestant community or anyone who values the rule of law being upheld in Turkey,” she said. 


Car bomb kills four in Baghdad’s Sadr City

Car bomb kills four in Baghdad’s Sadr City
Updated 18 min 41 sec ago

Car bomb kills four in Baghdad’s Sadr City

Car bomb kills four in Baghdad’s Sadr City
  • The car was parked at a busy second-hand equipment market in the mainly Shiite district of Sadr city

BAGHDAD: Four people were killed and another 17 were wounded in a car bomb attack on Thursday in the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City in Baghdad, Iraqi police and medical sources said.
The car was parked at a busy second-hand equipment market in the mainly Shiite district of Sadr city, police said.


Iran nuclear talks restart amid strains over enrichment move, Natanz attack

Iran nuclear talks restart amid strains over enrichment move, Natanz attack
Updated 30 min 54 sec ago

Iran nuclear talks restart amid strains over enrichment move, Natanz attack

Iran nuclear talks restart amid strains over enrichment move, Natanz attack
  • Casting a shadow over the Vienna talks, Tehran on Tuesday announced its decision to enrich uranium at 60% purity
  • Highlighting Western concerns, a senior diplomat said that while the desire was to make progress, Iran’s latest violation could not be ignored

VIENNA: Iran and global powers resumed talks on Thursday to rescue the 2015 nuclear deal in an effort potentially complicated by Tehran’s decision to ramp up uranium enrichment and what it called Israeli sabotage at a nuclear site.
Casting a shadow over the Vienna talks, Tehran on Tuesday announced its decision to enrich uranium at 60% purity, a big step closer to the 90% that is weapons-grade material, in response to an explosion at its key Natanz facility on Sunday.
Calling the move “provocative,” the United States and the European parties to the deal warned that Tehran’s enrichment move was contrary to efforts to revive the accord abandoned by Washington three years ago.
Tehran’s refusal to hold direct talks with its old adversary the United States forced European intermediaries to shuttle between separate hotels in Vienna last week when Iran and the other signatories held what they described as a first round of “constructive” talks to salvage the pact.
“Don’t worry about Iran. We have always remained committed to our obligations,” Rouhani said in a televised cabinet meeting on Thursday.
“Even today, if we wish, we can enrich uranium at 90% purity. But we are not seeking a nuclear bomb ... If others return to full compliance with the deal ... we will stop 60% and 20% enrichment.”
The 2015 deal was designed to make it harder for Iran to develop an atomic bomb in return for lifting sanctions.
Highlighting Western concerns, a senior diplomat said that while the desire was to make progress, Iran’s latest violation could not be ignored and made efforts to achieve a breakthrough before the June 18 Iranian presidential election harder.
“The seriousness of Iran’s latest decisions has hurt this process and raised tensions,” said the senior Western diplomat.
“We will have to see how in the coming days we address these violations with the will to press ahead in the talks.”
The deal’s remaining parties — Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — have agreed to form two expert-level groups whose job is to marry lists of sanctions that the United States could lift with nuclear obligations Iran should meet.
A delegate at the talks said events in Natanz should not distract, and that this round needed to focus on what the Americans were actually prepared to do.
“They still have not said what they mean,” the delegate said. “We need the Americans to say which sanctions they are prepared to lift.”
Tehran has repeatedly said that all sanctions must be rescinded first, warning that it may stop negotiations if the measures are not lifted. Washington wants Iran to reverse the breaches of the deal that it made in retaliation for tough sanctions imposed by former US President Donald Trump.
“We will underline that Tehran does not want to hold corrosive negotiations. Our aim is not just talks for talks. In case of having a constructive outcome, we will continue the negotiations. Otherwise the talks will stop,” Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi told state TV.
Israel, which Tehran refuses to recognize, opposes the deal, an accord that Iran and US President Joe Biden are trying to revive after Trump quit it in 2018 and reinstated sanctions. Israel has not formally commented on Sunday’s Natanz incident.


Interview: Israel’s Danny Danon positive about Palestinian peace, says Biden should be tougher on Iran

Interview: Israel’s Danny Danon positive about Palestinian peace, says Biden should be tougher on Iran
Updated 15 April 2021

Interview: Israel’s Danny Danon positive about Palestinian peace, says Biden should be tougher on Iran

Interview: Israel’s Danny Danon positive about Palestinian peace, says Biden should be tougher on Iran
  • ‘We know that Iran is a threat. A threat to Israel. To the Middle East’

Former Israeli UN Ambassador Danny Danon urged President Biden Wednesday not to appease Iran and called for tougher changes to force Iran to adhere to a new nuclear arms agreement.

Danon, who is the chairman of World Likud, the political party of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, also urged the Palestinian leadership to engage in face-to-face peace talks, saying there is room for a Palestinian state.

Appearing on The Ray Hanania Show broadcasting on the US Arab Radio Network, Danon called Iran a threat and said it would be better if the Iran nuclear agreement negotiated in 2015, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), were scrapped.

“We know that Iran is a threat. A threat to Israel. To the Middle East. To the stability of the world. The second assumption I want to make, that the agreement that was signed in 2015 was a bad agreement, the JCPOA,” Danon said.

“Today it is not better, it is even worse. Now the question is what will the US do? I hope the new administration will not re-enter the JCPOA as it is, without any amendments. That would be bad. That would be a sign the administration is trying to appease the Iranians.”

In a wide-ranging radio interview, Danon said that if the JCPOA is not scrapped, then the agreement should be amended.

“The second option is they would try to improve the agreement. And if they would try to do that, we have a few ideas of what should be improved in the agreement,” Danon said.

“The inspections. The ballistic missile test. The sunset clause. The billions of dollars they give to proxies and promote terrorism. We would be able to walk with the US on that. But still it’s not clear whether Biden is willing to push for amendment or whether he is willing to go back to the agreement.”

Danon said that the sanctions on Iran are the only reason why Iran is negotiating. He said Biden and the European nations should not let their guard down with Iran, arguing that any easing of sanctions would embolden Iran’s plans to build a nuclear weapon.

“You cannot say that the sanctions didn’t help. The reason that they are negotiating today is because of the sanctions. I think we should continue with the sanctions against the regime,” Danon said.

“On the other end, they play for the long run. We look at cycles of four years. President Trump. President Biden. Prime Minister Netanyahu. They look for the long run and that is why they are so dangerous.”

Danon said Israel supports a Palestinian state, but he cautioned that any agreement or final borders must all be negotiated face-to-face between Israeli and Palestinian officials.

“We think we should negotiate directly with the Palestinians Eventually it will have to be both sides entering the room and talking directly to each other,” Danon said.

“But you need a leader for that. I don’t think President Abbas is the right leader. I think he wants to finish his term in history not being the one who is actually signing the agreement or actually making the compromises. It is unfortunate because we are going to have to wait for the next generation to emerge and hopefully negotiate on that.”

Danon pointed to the negotiations conducted between Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Prime Minister Menachem Begin as an example of how peace can be achieved through compromise and mutual respect.

“Four years after a bloody war that we had in 1973, Anwar Sadat landed in Israel, approached the Israeli parliament and we believed him. We believed that he was a partner,” Dannon said.

Asked if he supports a Palestinian state, Danon said, “My goal is to give as much freedom as possible to the Palestinian people without risking the well-being and security of the Israelis. So, the question is where you draw the line.

“I think it is not a problem of land. I am very familiar with the land in Judea and Samaria. I can tell you — I just traveled there last week with my family — the majority of the land in Judea and Samaria is vacant. It is desert. There is nothing there. It is not a problem that we are actually fighting over land. There is a place for the Palestinians. There is a place for the Jews. It is more about recognition. It is more about actually recognizing the fact that both sides will stay here and eventually we will have to work together.”

During the radio interview broadcast on the US Arab Radio Network on WNZK AM 690 in Detroit and WDMV AM 700 in Washington D.C., Danon said that he believes the Abraham Accords negotiated by former President Donald Trump can serve as a blueprint for peace throughout the Middle East, including with the Palestinians.

“I think it is an important step in the right direction. I think it will help the process. Eventually it will help the Palestinians to take tough decisions,” Danon said.

“I personally believe that when we start negotiating with the Palestinians, we should have those leaders in the room. We should think about regional challenges and regional opportunities. The Palestinians are here, we are here to stay. We have to learn to live together to work together. But I do believe that the presence of other moderate leaders in the process can be helpful.”

But Danon said he fears Palestinian elections which are scheduled to be held on May 22 for the Palestinian Legislative Council and on July 31 for the Palestinian presidency will be dominated by Hamas, which is accused of engaging in terrorism and violence to undermine a comprehensive peace accord and will eventually control the Occupied West Bank territories, in addition to the Gaza Strip where it is now based.

“Actually, I have a feeling that Hamas will be able to take over. It happened in the past during the election. It can happen again. I am not involved and we are not interfering in the process,” Danon said.

“But you see there are a few factions in the PA coming from the Fatah side and Hamas is running with one list. I don’t know what will happen there but the last thing we want to see is Hamas taking over Judea and Samaria.”

Danon also offered greetings for Ramadan, saying, “I want to take this opportunity and wish a Ramadan Kareem, a Happy Ramadan to all of my colleagues from all around the world.”

For more information on The Ray Hanania Show, visit ArabNews.com.


Oman night ban returns as ICU cases hit new record

Oman night ban returns as ICU cases hit new record
Updated 15 April 2021

Oman night ban returns as ICU cases hit new record

Oman night ban returns as ICU cases hit new record
  • There are more than 770 hospitalized COVID-19 patients
  • Authorities have renewed the ban on all commercial activities and movement of people and vehicles between 9 p.m. to 4 a.m.

DUBAI: Oman has reported on Wednesday a record number of coronavirus patients in the intensive care unit as the Sultanate renewed night curfew, daily Times of Oman reported.

There are more than 770 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, with 264 in ICU, for the first time since the pandemic started, the report said.

Authorities have renewed the ban on all commercial activities and movement of people and vehicles between 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. local time throughout the holy month of Ramadan.

All types of gatherings, including iftars in mosques, tents or public places typical during Ramadan are affected by the prohibition against mass assembly.

Oman’s Supreme Committee, which was created to deal with all coronavirus pandemic related developments, also imposed a ban on all social, sports and cultural activities and any other group activities.

Key sectoral workers such as in oil, healthcare, utilities, food supply, media and three-ton trucks are exempted from the movement ban, provided they have permissions. Pharmacies were also allowed to operate during the commercial ban.

The decisions can either be relaxed or toughened, depending on the pandemic situation, according to Dr. Abdullah Nasser Al-Harrasi, the minister of Information and a member of the COVID-19 Supreme Committee.


Turkish delegation to visit Egypt in May for ‘normalization’ talks: foreign minister

Turkish delegation to visit Egypt in May for ‘normalization’ talks: foreign minister
Updated 15 April 2021

Turkish delegation to visit Egypt in May for ‘normalization’ talks: foreign minister

Turkish delegation to visit Egypt in May for ‘normalization’ talks: foreign minister
  • Turkey and Egypt froze ties after the 2013 overthrow of president Muhammad Mursi
  • Cavusoglu said the first delegation talks would be at the level of deputy foreign ministers

ISTANBUL: A Turkish delegation will visit Egypt next month as part of Ankara’s efforts to mend ties, the foreign minister said on Thursday.
“Egypt invited a delegation from Turkey. The delegation will go in early May,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told the private NTV broadcaster.
“We will discuss openly how to normalize relations.”
Turkey and Egypt froze ties after the 2013 overthrow of president Muhammad Mursi, who forged close ties with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
That year, both countries expelled each others’ ambassadors and Cairo had then declared the Turkish envoy “persona non grata.”
But Turkish officials last month said Ankara had established the first diplomatic contacts with Cairo since 2013 as part of wider efforts to repair relations with other Middle Eastern rivals.
Cavusoglu on Thursday said the first delegation talks would be at the level of deputy foreign ministers, ahead of a contact between the ministers.
“I hope we will all together further improve relations,” he said.