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See video: Jacqueline Furnari, daughter of Andrew Brunson, testifies to the U.S. State Department’s inaugural Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C., on July 24, 2018. Brunson has been imprisoned in Turkey since October 7, 2016, and is being tried on charges of terrorism, espionage, and attempting to convert Turks to Christianity.
A crowd of Turkish Christians from Andrew Brunson’s Izmir Resurrection Church greeted their pastor with cries of “We love you, Andrew!” as he arrived home under police escort on Wednesday afternoon, 25 July.
(World Watch Monitor) After nearly 22 months in detention, Brunson was released at 5.30pm from Izmir’s Kiriklar maximum security prison and transferred to house arrest following a court order responding to his lawyer’s appeal, which cited health reasons.
However, the pastor will now not be allowed to leave the confines of his home until his next hearing, scheduled for 12 October.
Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey for 23 years, has been on trial for terrorism and spying charges – of having links with the Fethullah Gülen movement, which the Ankara government blames for the failed July 2016 coup attempt, and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Last week the Second High Penal Court in the western province of İzmir rejected an appeal to release him in its latest hearing, 18 July, and decided to continue listening to the testimonies of witnesses in the next hearing. Western observers in the court told World Watch Monitor there was not one piece of evidence so far produced to indicate the pastor is guilty of any crime, and that his trial is for political expediency. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wants Gülen to be extradited back to Turkey (the cleric is currently living in the US) to stand trial for the 2016 coup.
Brunson was detained nearly two years ago, in October 2016, and faces up to 35 years in prison if found guilty. The pastor has completely denied all the charges, calling them “shameful and disgusting”.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Vice Chair Kristina Arriaga, who attended the hearing in Aliağa, near Izmir, welcomed his release from prison but said more needed to be done.
“This is welcome news,” she said. “It is good that Pastor Brunson will have some relief after being held in a Turkish prison for more than 600 days. But it is not enough. The Turkish government has deprived this innocent man of his due process rights and liberty for too long, and it must completely release him. If it fails to do so, the Trump Administration and the Congress should respond strongly and swiftly with targeted sanctions against the authorities responsible.”—
(Voice of the Persecuted) Due to health condition, the Turkish court has ruled to allow American pastor, Andrew Brunson to be moved from jail to house arrest. The court ordered that Brunson is banned from leaving Turkey as he waits out his trial to continue at his home in Izmir. In custody since 2016, Brunson was arrested for terror and espionage charges, which he strongly denies. Andrew faces up to 35 years in prison for “committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member and for espionage. All who know this gentle pastor call the trial a sham and the charges outlandish.
We can imagine the joy his family is feeling at this moment as they wait at the prison for his release. Let us lift up the Lord and give him praise for all He is doing in this case and Andrew’s life. May God heal him and give our brother strength. In Jesus holy name, all glory to God.
(Voice of the Persecuted) Andrew Brunson is an American citizen who lived in Turkey for over 20 years. He led a small church in Izmir and, along with his wife, had raised their three children there. The couple then decided to apply for permanent residency in this nation of people whom they greatly loved. On Oct. 7, they were called to a local police station with no worries beliving they were finally approved for residency. However, the Brunson’s were detained and his wife released shortly after. Andrew’s arrest followed the failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2016. The Turkish government is using evidence based on the testimony of a “secret witness’ against Andrew who maintains his innocence. Now Andrew is facing the third hearing of his trial, next week. Some are calling the case a sham trial to force the U.S. to hand over Fethullah Gülen, believed to be the mastermind of the July 2016 failed coup by President Erdogan’s government. In March of this year, his daughter spoke on behalf of her father in front of the U.N. Human Rights Council.
Many are warning of the recent changes taking place in Turkey. It has one of the lowest rankings in the world in terms of freedom of press. The regime continues to abuse the rights of its citizens, including freedom of speech, of association, and the rights of ethnic and religious minorities. Those not belonging to Sunni Islam are under suspicion and Christians in Turkey, a small minority, have been under increasing pressure and victims of intolerance.
At the last hearing, Andrew repeatedly denied charges that he was involved with terrorism and espionage. Brunson said in his defense,
“I am helping Syrian refugees, they say that I am aiding the PKK. I am setting up a church, they say I got help from Gülen’s network.”
There is not one photograph or tape recording praising the PKK at the (Izmir) Resurrection Church. Our church had several Turkish followers. Our doors were open to everyone. I strived to prevent politics entering the church.”
“My service that I have spent my life on, has now turned upside down. I was never ashamed to be a server of Jesus, but these claims are shameful and disgusting.”
In an effort to be united in prayer before and when Andrew enters the courtroom, Voice of the Persecuted and Persecution Watch is inviting Christians to join together on an 8 hour open prayer conference call that will begin at 7 p.m. EST on Tuesday, July 17th and continue to 3 a.m. EST on the 18th.
Andrew’s wife recently shared,
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for persevering in prayer with us. I pass on your comments to Andrew from time to time. YOU, the body of Christ, are truly amazing! Where else do people love and pray for others they’ve never met? What a testimony YOU have been. The summer heat means Andrew can’t sleep well as he is constantly drenched in sweat. He makes a point of offering that up as a sacrifice. He is not wanting to exaggerate the discomfort of heat – he knows that many have been in much worse conditions.
He has been calmer recently as is trying to see things through the lenses of demonstrating the value, the worth of Jesus – that those whom He loves and who love Him are willing to suffer for him. He often prays “Father, cause to burst into flame in me the love you have for Jesus, that I may be a fervent, ardent lover of Him, willing to undergo whatever is asked.”
Please remember the next hearing date – July 18.
When one hears about the persecuted, they may ask, “What can I do, I am only one person?” It’s simple, that person can pray. James reminds us that the prayer of a righteous person is very powerful and effective. (James 5:16).
Jesus says that if we have faith as small as a mustard seed we can move mountains. For nothing will be impossible for us (Matthew 17:20).
Imagine one person who is righteous and has faith as small as a mustard seed. What can that person accomplish in their prayers? Then imagine hundreds, if not thousands, of intercessors with that same mustard seed faith. What can they accomplish in Christ through their prayers?I
In Hebrews 13:3 we’re asked, “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” In this verse, those being described as in prison and being mistreated were Christians experiencing persecution for their faith. The verse also highlights the oneness we should feel as believers in the Body of Christ.
As the next court date draws near, let us not forget the importance of the call in Hebrews 13:3. Brothers and sisters, let us continue to remember, in our prayers, Andrew Brunson and the thousands of brothers and sisters imprisoned for their faith throughout the world.
Please join us on the 8 hour prayer conference call next Tuesday, as we come together praying for the release of our brother, Andrew, and the global persecuted church, believing God will act on their behalf.
“If only you would tear the heavens open and come down, so that mountains would quake at your presence—just as fire kindles brushwood, and fire boils water—to make your name known to your enemies, so that nations will tremble at your presence! When you did awesome works that we did not expect, you who came down, and the mountains quaked at your presence. From ancient times no one has heard, no one has listened to, no eye has seen any God except you who acts on behalf of the one who waits for him.” Isaiah 64:1-4 (CSB) BELIEVE!
MARK YOUR CALENDARS!
8 HOUR PRAYER CONFERENCE CALL
Location: Any location from your phone
When: Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Length of call: 8 Hours (Note: You’re not required to commit to 8 hours. Come on the call and pray as your time allows.)
Time of the Call:
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Call number: 712.775.7035
Access code: 281207#
We believe prayer works. Stay on the call 5 minutes, 5 hours, or as long as you feel led. Your prayers make a huge difference in the lives of our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world.
Lord willing, I look forward to praying with you on the 8-hour call.
Your brother in Christ,
Serving Jesus as Prayer Director of Voice of the Persecuted and Persecution Watch.
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Mark 11:24
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(World Watch Monitor) The American Charge d’Affaires in Ankara has said that Turkey’s continued detention of pastor Andrew Brunson on spying and terrorism-related charges is impeding US-Turkish relations.
Philip Kosnett said there is a “strong sense of unity in Congress between Republicans and Democrats” on the need for Brunson to be released and “a similar sense of unity between Congress and the administration that in order for the relationship between Turkey and the US to progress, we need to resolve that status not only for Brunson but also for other American citizens and local Turkish employees of US missions who we feel are detained unjustly under the state of emergency”.
According to the Turkish daily Hurriyet, Kosnett said that resolving those cases would improve “prospects for progress” in other areas of co-operation, such as security in northern Syria. He was speaking to reporters yesterday as it emerged that two senators travelled to Turkey last week to lobby Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for the release of Pastor Brunson, whom they visited in prison.
Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Jeanne Shaheen met President Erdoğan in Ankara last Friday (29 June) after visiting Pastor Brunson in prison in the Aliağa district of the western city of Izmir earlier that day, the New Hampshire Union Leader reported.
Following their previously undisclosed trip, Shaheen told the New Hampshire Union Leader: “Pastor Brunson has been unjustly imprisoned and kept away from his family for well over one year. The opportunity to see him and his wife, Norine, and to appeal directly to President Erdogan, were my main objectives on this trip.
“Any time an American is wrongfully detained anywhere by a foreign government, it is our country’s duty to do everything we can to bring him or her home.”
Shaheen, the senior senator from New Hampshire, is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees. She has been outspoken in calling for the US to sanction Turkey over the detention of Pastor Brunson, who has been behind bars for more than 20 months. Shaheen and Republican Senator Thom Tillis secured an amendment in the National Defense Authorization Act that bars Turkey from buying F-35 fighter jets, because of its continued detention of Brunson.
“I am confident that the Turkish President understands this, and I appreciated the opportunity to raise my concerns. The US-Turkey relationship is of strategic importance to both countries,” Shaheen added.
The Turkish presidency did not issue a statement after the meeting.
The senators’ visit took place 10 days before Erdogan’s scheduled meeting with US President Donald Trump on the margins of a NATO summit in Brussels, Hurriyet noted.
Brunson’s third hearing is set for 18 July. Prosecutors have accused Brunson, pastor of the Izmir Resurrection Church, of having ties with supporters of Fethullah Gülen, the Muslim cleric Turkey has demanded be extradited by the US in exchange for Brunson, and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, and are seeking a 35-year sentence. He denies all the charges.
Meanwhile, a leading Turkish commentator wrote that “many” diplomats in Ankara expect his imminent release and deportation. In a column for Hurriyet, Serkan Demirtas suggested that the political fall-out of Brunson’s continued detention in Turkey was proving too costly.
“Brunson, who has been in jail since late 2016, seems to be much too costly for Turkey, and his continued detention would further complicate the situation. That is why many diplomats in Ankara expect his potential release followed by his deportation, pending trial on the July 18 hearing,” he wrote.
“Of course, it is impossible to foresee what the court’s decision will be, but his release would sure help the ongoing reconciliation process between Turkey and the US.”
Law enforcement agencies are increasing pressure on Protestants in Nizhny Novgorod Region. They are using both the so-called “anti-missionary” amendment and immigration law to punish churches and their members for such activities as inviting students to parties and posting videos of worship on social media. Judges have fined and ordered the deportation from Russia of two African students at Nizhny Novgorod’s medical academy for appearing in or reposting videos on the VKontakte social network.
The two students’ Pentecostal church, Jesus Embassy, has received multiple fines under Administrative Code Article 5.26, Part 3 (“Implementation of activities by a religious organisation without indicating its official full name, including the issuing or distribution, within the framework of missionary activity, of literature and printed, audio, and video material without a label bearing this name, or with an incomplete or deliberately false label”) and Part 4 (“Russians conducting missionary activity”).
The FSB security service initiated the prosecutions of both Jesus Embassy Church members and the latest prosecution of the Church itself (see below).
The two deported students have been permitted to stay in the country to complete their final exams, but must leave by 30 June. “After spending 6 years in Russia, they would have become a connecting thread between our countries,” Pentecostal Bishop Konstantin Bendas, commented in “Novaya Gazeta” newspaper on 17 May. “Now this thread is broken.”
“The charges of illegal missionary activity are completely unlawful,” Pentecostal Union lawyer Vladimir Ozolin insisted to Forum 18. “I would like to hope that the cases were initiated by the stupidity of the siloviki, otherwise this greatly undermines the authority of Russia in the international arena.”
Many other Nizhny Novgorod prosecutions
Other Protestant churches in the Region have also faced prosecution many times since the adoption of the “anti-missionary” law in July 2016, court records show. Indeed, World Cup host city Nizhny Novgorod and its Region have one of the highest levels of prosecution under Administrative Code Article 5.26 (primarily under Part 3) in the whole of Russia, and several cases appear to rest on flimsy or fabricated evidence (see below).
Nizhny Novgorod is an “advanced region” for prosecutions under the “anti-missionary” amendment, Pentecostal Union lawyer Ozolin told Forum 18 from Moscow on 19 May. Seventh-day Adventist lawyer Vasily Nichik agreed, commenting to Forum 18 on 19 June that Nizhny Novgorod is “among the foremost in terms of persecution in the field of religious freedoms”. It is difficult to explain why, he added. “In these matters, very often everything depends on the personalities within the system”.
In the first year of the “anti-missionary” law (July 2016 to July 2017), cases under Administrative Code Article 5.26, Parts 3, 4, and 5 (“Foreigners conducting missionary activity”) reached court in 50 regions of the country. Nizhny Novgorod saw the highest number of separate investigations (eight) and the fourth highest number of individual prosecutions (eleven).
According to available court records, Nizhny Novgorod has experienced a particularly high level of prosecution under Article 5.26, Part 3, more than twice that of the next region.
Constitutional Court definition – any impact?
In general, the Religion Law’s vague definition of “missionary activity” (and lack of clarity over what constitutes “membership of” or “participation in” a religious association) has meant that law enforcement can understand virtually anything as “missionary activity”.
In March 2018, however, Russia’s Constitutional Court issued its own interpretation, which lawyers hoped would clarify the key concepts employed in cases under Article 5.26, Parts 4 and 5.
According to the Constitutional Court, “A defining feature [sistemoobrazuyushchy priznak] of missionary activity is the dissemination by citizens and their associations of information about a specific religious belief among persons who, not being its followers, are involved in their number, including as participants in specific religious associations”. Therefore, the distribution of information, for example, about services, ceremonies, or events “falls under the definition of missionary activity as such, only if it contains the said defining feature” (see F18News 16 May 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2377).
Most of the “anti-missionary” prosecutions in the current law enforcement campaign in Nizhny Novgorod took place before the Constitutional Court issued its interpretation. Two, however, came to trial afterwards, but the Constitutional Court’s clarification of the legal norms appears to have had no effect on the outcome.
It should also be noted that the Constitutional Court’s definition of missionary activity has no bearing on prosecutions under Article 5.26, Part 3 (“Implementation of activities by a religious organisation without indicating its official full name, including the issuing or distribution, within the framework of missionary activity, of literature and printed, audio, and video material without a label bearing this name, or with an incomplete or deliberately false label”).
Who is being targeted and where is this coming from?
The Jesus Embassy Pentecostal Church, which has several communities in the Region, has borne the brunt of law enforcement attention, but other Protestant communities have also been affected. Jesus Embassy communities, which are led and primarily made up of Russians, are part of the Russian Pentecostal Union, which, according to Bishop Konstantin Bendas, has an agreement with several African embassies in Russia to work with students from their countries.
“The FSB is interested in Jesus Embassy itself and Protestants in general,” lawyer Aleksey Vetoshkin, who has been involved in several recent cases, told Forum 18 from Nizhny Novgorod on 17 May. “After this pressure, the number of African parishioners has fallen from 150 to 20”.
Nizhny Novgorod so far appears to be a particular hotspot for prosecutions related to “missionary activity”. While the focus on Protestant communities is not anomalous (they make up the clear majority of prosecutions across the country), the intensity of law enforcement activity in Nizhny Novgorod, particularly that aimed at foreign students, is unusual.
Foreigners elsewhere are sometimes fined or deported under immigration law for engaging in religious activity when this is not covered by their visas, but they are usually clergy or lay missionaries on brief visits to Russia. It is rare for students who have been at Russian universities for several years to be ordered to leave.
There does not appear to be a nationwide law enforcement campaign against African Protestants in Russia. Forum 18 is aware of only four other Africans who have been prosecuted under Administrative Code Article 5.26, Part 5 since July 2016 (three students, one pastor – all affiliated with various Protestant churches), in four different regions. Of these cases, one was returned to police for technical reasons and not resubmitted – the other three defendants were fined and one was ordered deported, but the deportation order was rescinded on appeal (see F18News 9 August 2017 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2306).
The law enforcement campaign in Nizhny Novgorod Region appears to be driven by the FSB security service. According to FSB documents seen by Forum 18 or cited in the Russian media, the FSB alerted the police immigration control department and local Justice Ministry branch to various alleged violations. Those agencies then initiated prosecutions. Court verdicts usually refer to (but do not quote) FSB information as evidence of a defendant’s guilt.
Forum 18 wrote to the Nizhny Novgorod FSB on 21 June, asking why it is targeting Protestants and in what way they can be considered a security risk, but had received no reply by the end of the working day on 25 June.
“I understand that behind the whole persecution of Protestants is someone from the leadership of law enforcement agencies. Who? It is difficult to answer this question unambiguously,” lawyer Vasily Nichik remarked to Forum 18 on 19 June. “If a highly intolerant person enters the power structure, then he sees enemies in everyone and begins to construct schemes to restrict freedoms and persecute [people] for dissent. Such a type has probably ended up in the leadership of law enforcement agencies in the Nizhny Novgorod Region.”
Kudzai Nyamarebvu prosecuted
Zimbabwean medical student Kudzai Nyamarebvu has faced prosecution three times in six months under both immigration and “anti-missionary” legislation for an increasingly bizarre series of alleged offences involving videos on social media. She has been ordered to leave Russia by 30 June. The church she attends in Nizhny Novgorod, “Jesus Embassy”, and the regional Pentecostal association to which it belongs, have also received fines.
– Prosecution No. 1 – Article 18.8, Part 2
Nizhny Novgorod’s Sormovo District Court found Nyamarebvu guilty on 25 January 2018 of an offence under Administrative Code Article 18.8, Part 2 (“Violation by a foreign citizen or stateless person of the rules of entry into the Russian Federation or the regime of residence in the Russian Federation, expressed in the inconsistency of the declared goal of entry with the activity or occupation actually carried out during his/her stay”). She had appeared in a video her Church had posted on its VKontakte page,
Judge Vasily Korytov fined Nyamarebvu 5,000 Roubles (five days’ average local wages) and ordered her to be deported (“monitored independent departure”, meaning that she would not be detained in the interim). At the time, she was half way through her sixth and final year at the Nizhny Novgorod State Medical Academy (since renamed Privolzhsky Medical Research University), and deportation would have meant that she would have been unable to sit her final exams and receive her degree.
Although the case against Nyamarebvu was lodged by the police immigration control department, it was based on information from the FSB, according to the court verdict seen by Forum 18.
The video which triggered the prosecution had been posted in November 2016, and showed Nyamarebvu inviting fellow African students to a “welcome party” at the church. The Nizhny Novgorod police immigration control department and Judge Korytov decided that this constituted “missionary activity” on behalf of Jesus Embassy, thus violating the terms of Nyamarebvu’s visa, which granted her entry to Russia for the purpose of education only.
As church lawyer Vladimir Malinin argued, the video had no religious content and the planned party was not a religious event. Bishop Bendas also points out in his 17 May article in “Novaya Gazeta” that most Africans who come to study in Russia are Protestants anyway. Nyamarebvu was also speaking English, Pentecostal Union lawyer Ozolin noted to Forum 18. It is therefore unclear how this could be deemed “missionary activity”.
Under the Russian Constitution and international law, foreign citizens also have equal rights with Russian citizens to freedom of religion and belief.
Nyamrebvu’s appeal on 7 February at Nizhny Novgorod Regional Court was unsuccessful, but Judge Vyacheslav Kudrya set her date of departure from Russia as 30 June 2018, to allow her to complete her medical studies.
– Prosecution No. 2 – Article 5.26, Part 5
Police later charged Nyamarebvu under Article 5.26, Part 5 (“Foreigners conducting missionary activity”) for reposting, on her own VKontakte page, a video which showed another African student talking about how she believed God had helped her recover from illness. Nyamarebvu had deleted this video in late January, but police nevertheless lodged a case against her in April at Nizhny Novgorod’s Prioksky District Court.
Judge Olga Vorotnikova sent the case back on 23 April because officers had not specified in their report the location of the alleged offence, according to the written verdict, seen by Forum 18. On 4 May, the police sent Nyamarebvu a letter telling her that the case had been dropped because the time limit for prosecution had passed.
– Prosecution No. 3 – Article 5.26, Part 5
On 8 June, the police summoned Nyamarebvu and informed her that she was being charged again under Article 5.26, Part 5 because of an interview she had given about her earlier prosecutions, which had been published on the Pentecostal Union’s website.
Officers interpreted this interview as “unlawful missionary activity”. Judge Mariya Astafyeva of Prioksky District Court fined Nyamarebvu 30,000 Roubles (one month’s average local wages) on 9 June. Nyamarebvu was due to sit her final exam the next day.
Jesus Embassy pastor Pavel Ryndich attended the court hearing. “The accusation disintegrated like a sandcastle under the simplest questioning,” he wrote on his Facebook page on 10 June.
Nevertheless, the judge decided that Nyamarebvu was guilty of “hidden missionary activity, not expressed in either words or gestures”.
Prosecutions of Jesus Embassy
– For party invitation
Before Nyamarebvu herself became subject to law enforcement attention, her church – Jesus Embassy – had already been fined three times for the single video in which she had appeared.
Both the local religious organisation – Jesus Embassy Bible Centre, Nizhny Novgorod – and the centralised religious organisation – Jesus Embassy Union of Evangelical Churches in Nizhny Novgorod – were prosecuted under Article 5.26, Part 3 (“Implementation of activities by a religious organisation without indicating its official full name, including the issuing or distribution, within the framework of missionary activity, of literature and printed, audio, and video material without a label bearing this name, or with an incomplete or deliberately false label”).
Judge Yelena Kutuzova of Moscow District Magistrate’s Court No. 6 found both guilty in separate hearings (on 8 June and 6 June 2017 respectively) and fined them 30,000 Roubles (one month’s average local wages) each for distributing video material on VKontake and YouTube which did not bear the organisations’ full official names.
The local church made an unsuccessful appeal on 11 July 2017 at Moscow District Court, and an unsuccessful supervisory appeal on 28 September 2017 at Nizhny Novgorod Regional Court. The centralised church also unsuccessfully challenged its conviction at Moscow District Court on 20 July 2017, but lodged no supervisory appeal.
The centralised Jesus Embassy organisation was also prosecuted under Article 5.26, Part 4 for the same video – for allowing Nyamarebvu to perform the alleged “missionary activity” without the necessary documentation authorising her to do so.
Judge Kutuzova fined the organisation 50,000 Roubles on 9 June 2017. Although the judge noted that the centralised organisation was the entity obliged to fulfil the requirements of the law and thus the one to bear responsibility for the alleged offence, this appears to have had no bearing on the prosecution of the local church.
The centralised organisation appealed unsuccessfully against its Part 4 conviction on 11 July 2017 at Moscow District Court. An unsuccessful supervisory appeal took place on 28 September 2017 at Nizhny Novgorod Regional Court.
– For video about “Encounter” event
Another video from 2016 served as grounds for prosecuting the centralised Jesus Embassy organisation again under both Article 5.26, Part 3 (“Implementation of activities by a religious organisation without indicating its official full name, including the issuing or distribution, within the framework of missionary activity, of literature and printed, audio, and video material without a label bearing this name, or with an incomplete or deliberately false label”) and Article 5.26, Part 4 (“Russians conducting missionary activity”).
This video, also posted on the church’s social media pages, showed four other students (from Zambia, Namibia, Malawi, and Côte d’Ivoire) talking (in English, French, and Portuguese) about their experiences at “encounter” events at the church – “This is a time when we discuss such topics as love, faith, and dreams, based on the Bible”, church press secretary Yuliya Yermoshina told Dozhd TV on 27 April.
On 28 April 2018, Judge Yelena Kutuzova of Nizhny Novgorod’s Moscow District Magistrate’s Court No. 6 again found Jesus Embassy guilty both of permitting the students to perform “missionary activity” without the necessary documentation (Part 4) and of failing to display its full official name in the video (Part 3). She issued fines of 30,000 Roubles (one month’s average local wages) under Part 3 and 100,000 Roubles under Part 4. Moscow District Court rejected both appeals on 8 June 2018.
One of the people in the video, medical student Chileshe Maurin, had already graduated and returned to Zambia in 2017, before the church was charged. The others – Debora Mangenge and Mzengereza Tingawena from the (then) Nizhny Novgorod State Medical Academy, and Kpata Evilafo Adel Olivia Romuald from Nizhny Novgorod State Pedagogical University – do not appear to have been charged either under immigration law or the “anti-missionary” amendment.
Given the length of time which elapsed between the multiple prosecutions of Jesus Embassy for the “welcome party” video and the prosecution of Kudzai Nyamarebvu, however, the three remaining Africans might still face charges.
The Justice Ministry of Nizhny Novgorod Region lodged the case at the Magistrate’s Court, but on the basis of information from the FSB, which wrote to the Justice Ministry on 20 February 2018, alerting it to the video. The FSB document states that the four Africans had entered the country on student visas but had carried out “missionary activity on behalf of a religious organisation” without written authorisation, according to the Dozhd TV report of 27 April.
Nosise Vusiwe Shiba prosecuted
The FSB security service also initiated at least one prosecution of another member of Jesus Embassy, Nosise Vusiwe Shiba from Swaziland. She too has been ordered to leave Russia.
Shiba, also in her final year of medical school, first received a fine of 5,000 Roubles (five days’ average local wages) under Administrative Code Article 18.8, Part 2 on 28 February 2018 for participating in a “missionary conference” (“To the ends of the earth”) held by the Russian Pentecostal Union in Penza in May 2017. On 16 May 2018, she appeared in court for a second time, charged under Article 18.8, Part 4 (“An offence under Parts 1 or 2 repeated within one year”) with having sung at another “missionary conference” (“Save one more!”) in Nizhny Novgorod.
Judge Vasily Korytov of Nizhny Novgorod’s Sormovo District Court interpreted both acts as performing “missionary activity” while on an educational visa, as “by means of participating in a public event with the performance of religious songs, she disseminated information about her beliefs to an unlimited number of people”. For the second alleged offence, Shiba was fined 7,000 Roubles and ordered deported, but permitted to remain until 30 June to complete her degree.
The FSB security service noted in a letter to the police immigration control department on 18 April 2018 that Shiba appears singing in two videos which Jesus Embassy uploaded to YouTube in April and June 2017. The first video showed an Easter service; the second, the “Save one more!” conference. The FSB found the videos in October 2017.
According to the FSB letter, seen by Forum 18, these videos indicate that Shiba “participates in the activity of the so-called “worship group” [musicians] of [the centralised regional Jesus Embassy Church] and actively participates in preaching by P. Ryndich, pastor of this organisation”. Such “unlawful religious activity” constitutes “a violation .. of the rules of residence on the territory of the Russian Federation, in the form of non-conformity with the declared purpose of entry”.
“[Shiba] will finish her studies, a person’s life has not been broken”, her lawyer Aleksey Vetoshkin wrote on Facebook on 19 May. “However, the court has set a dangerous precedent – singing beautifully on the stage of a Protestant church is missionary activity. In my opinion, this is nonsense, but in the opinion of the court, this act creates public danger”.
Neither Shiba nor Jesus Embassy (local or centralised bodies) yet appears to have been charged under Administrative Code Article 5.26 in relation to these alleged offences.
Other Nizhny Novgorod churches targeted?
Law enforcement agencies in Nizhny Novgorod Region appear to be targeting Protestants using the “anti-missionary” amendment, rather than foreigners in particular. Foreign members of only the Jesus Embassy church appear to have been prosecuted so far, under either Administrative Code Article 5.26, Part 5 or immigration law.
Out of a total of eighteen prosecutions under Article 5.26, Part 3 in Nizhny Novgorod region (all dating from 2017 and 2018), sixteen were of Protestant communities – 6 Pentecostal, 5 Seventh-day Adventist, 3 independent Protestant, and 2 Baptist Union. There was also one case against a Hare Krishna community and one against Jehovah’s Witnesses (from before their nationwide ban).
Seventh-day Adventists in Nizhny Novgorod region have mainly been prosecuted under Article 5.26, Parts 3 and 4, lawyer Vasily Nichik told Forum 18 on 19 June. Their foreign members have kept a low profile and have experienced no problems. Adventist communities have, however, been subject to significant law enforcement attention, much of it, they claim, on spurious grounds.
Nichik described one “shameful case”, in which an unknown person removed a church sign showing the religious organisation’s full official name and replaced it with one bearing an incomplete name. This was not simple vandalism: “It’s very interesting that whoever did this knew the legal consequences of incorrect signage very well,” Nichik observed to Forum 18. “They didn’t just rip off the sign and throw it away, but made another and hung it in place of the first. Another interesting coincidence is that immediately after this, in the morning, a group of police officers arrived.”
Nichik added: “We can’t say who did this, but the available facts force one to draw conclusions about who is behind it. As a result, a small community of mostly pensioners was fined 30,000 Roubles [one month’s average local wages] under Article 5.26 Part 3.”
In his 17 May “Novaya Gazeta” article of, Pentecostal Bishop Bendas also notes the law enforcement focus on Seventh-day Adventists as well as his own church, outlining how police and FSB security service officers interrupted services in the towns of Shakhunya and Zavolzhye in Nizhny Novgorod Region.
“This means that [law enforcement officers] arrive during a service and begin interrogating parishioners and clergy, meaning that worship cannot proceed further,” lawyer Nichik explained to Forum 18 on 21 June. “Usually, they come with the service side-arms which they always carry, not with automatic weapons.”
In Shakhunya, the church was fined despite the fact that a sign with its full name was attached to the front door, which officers mysteriously “did not see at point blank range”. In Zavolzhye, the community was explicitly accused of not having a sign on its fence (for which there is no legal requirement). In this instance, the judge closed the case “in the absence of an administrative offence”. (END)
(Middle East Forum) While Christians make up less than half a percent of Turkey’s population, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Reconciliation Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP) depict them as a grave threat to the stability of the nation. With Erdoğan’s jihadist rhetoric often stereotyping Christian Turkish citizens as not real Turks but rather as Western stooges and collaborators, many Turks seem to be tilting toward an “eliminationist anti-Christian mentality,” to use historian Daniel Goldhagen’s term. Small wonder that the recent launch of an official online genealogy service allowing Turks to trace their ancestry has kindled a tidal xenophobic wave on the social media welcoming the fresh possibility to expose “Crypto-Armenians, Greeks, and Jews” mascarading as true Turks. 
“The Mosques Are Our Barracks”
Persecution of Turkey’s Christian minority has long predated Erdoğan and the AKP. As it stood on the verge of extinction, the Ottoman Empire engaged in mass deportations and massacres that culminated in the Armenian genocide. The end of World War I saw the expulsion of more than a million Greeks, and the position of the dwindling Christian community only somewhat improved in Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s secularist republic. Yet while Kemalist Turkey paid lip service to the equality of its non-Muslim minorities, the AKP unabashedly excludes these groups from Turkey’s increasingly Islamist national ethos.
An ominous indication of what lay in store for the religious minorities was afforded as early as December 1998 when Erdoğan, then mayor of Istanbul and an opposition politician, announced that the “mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets, and the faithful our soldiers,” quoting a line from a poem by the nineteenth-century nationalist poet Ziya Gökalp underscoring the Islamist foundation of Turkish identity. And while this recitation landed Erdoğan in prison for inciting religion-based hatred, once at the helm, he steadily realized this vision, systematically undoing Atatürk’s secularist legacy and Islamizing Turkey’s public space through such means as the government-operated Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet), which pays the salaries of the country’s 110,000 imams and controls the content of their Friday sermons.
Things came to a head during the July 15, 2016 abortive coup when the regime ordered the imams to go to their mosques and urge the faithful to take to the streets to quash the attempted revolt. Not surprisingly, this Islamist-nationalist reassertion was accompanied by numerous Christophobic manifestations (in Ayyan Hirsi Ali’s words), notably attacks on churches throughout the country. In Malatya, for example, a gang chanting “Allahu Akbar” broke the glass panels of the front door of a Protestant church while, in the Black Sea city of Trabzon, rioters smashed the windows of the Santa Maria Catholic church. Witnesses said the attackers used hammers to break down the door of the church before Muslim neighbors drove them away. As Istanbul pastor Yüce Kabakçı lamented:
The reality is that Turkey is neither a democracy nor a secular republic. There is no division between government affairs and religious affairs. There’s no doubt that the government uses the mosques to get its message across to its grassroots supporters. There is an atmosphere in Turkey right now that anyone who isn’t Sunni is a threat to the stability of the nation. Even the educated classes here don’t associate personally with Jews or Christians. It’s more than suspicion. It’s a case of let’s get rid of anyone who isn’t Sunni.
Anti-Christmas Campaigns… [Full Story]
Please pray for Christians in Turkey and for our brother, Andrew Brunson, an American imprisoned for his faith and awaiting the next session of his trial on July 18th.
(World Watch Monitor) At the close of Turkey’s second trial hearing against US pastor Andrew Brunson, his lawyer has sharply protested the Izmir court’s reliance on secret prosecution witnesses against his client.
Jailed for the past 19 months, the 50-year-old Evangelical Presbyterian minister was sent back to his cell in a maximum-security prison for another 10 weeks, until the third hearing set for 18 July.
“This secret witness issue is absolutely outlandish. It is not just related to our case; the secret witness issue has a very serious problem,” his lawyer, Ismail Cem Halavurt, told a Deutsche Welle reporter after the hearing.
“This case cannot proceed by just relying on secret witnesses’ testimony,” Halavurt said.
“Supporting evidence must come alongside these allegations. Our Supreme Court decisions regarding this are very plain: witness testimony claims are not sufficient to prolong a jailed person’s detention. In spite of reminding the court of this repeatedly, [Brunson’s detention] is being continued. This is not acceptable.”
“There is not a single piece of evidence,” he added, referring to the latest sensational allegations thrown against his client just that morning by a secret witness called ‘Serhat’. The witness claimed Brunson was plotting to set up a Kurdish Christian state, helping transfer US weapons to a Kurdish militia in Syria with his “missionary team”, and collaborating with well-known supporters of Fethullah Gülen, the Muslim cleric Turkey has demanded be extradited by the US in exchange for Brunson.
“Brunson’s release was obligatory, but unfortunately today [7 May] his release did not happen,” Halavurt said, vowing to file the necessary petitions before the third hearing “so this illegal detention will be brought to an end”.
“We will struggle to get Brunson set free,” he added.
The lawyer told reporters he had listened to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu’s comments about Brunson’s case just hours before the second hearing began.
“They say ‘the [Turkish] government should release him,’” Çavuşoğlu told CNNTURK. “Is it up to me? This is a decision the judiciary will make.”
But Halavurt said that to think the government’s political statements and opinions will not influence the judiciary is illogical, saying: “This case has been overly politicised.”
“Honestly, I don’t have any satisfaction that this court is able to make an independent, unbiased decision,” Halavurt said. “If you look at the [legal] obligations of the court, this issue is crystal clear; to continue imprisonment is illegal.”
The lawyer said he would persist in demanding Brunson’s legal right to be released from custody for the duration of the trial, expressing concern that the court’s refusal has caused the pastor serious psychological distress.
Sensational political allegations
During the 10-hour hearing on Monday, 7 May, the prosecution presented two secret witnesses who testified via video linkage, with their faces blurred on huge overhead screens and voices altered. Another five witnesses testified openly in person in the courtroom.
At the outset of the hearing, the presiding judge noted that missionary activity is in fact legal in Turkey. But the prosecution witness testimony revealed each individual’s distrust of ‘hidden’ motives behind Brunson’s Christian activities, which they linked to his alleged involvements with Kurdish terrorism and the now-banned Islamic network of the Fethullah Gülen movement, accused by Ankara of launching the failed 15 July, 2016 coup to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government.
For nearly two rambling hours, the secret witness referred to as ‘Serhat’ recounted events and activities in which he claimed Brunson was involved. Although he described himself as a Christian, Serhat admitted repeatedly that he had not himself heard or witnessed the claims he was relating. Rather, he had “seen social-media accounts” displaying the sympathies of some people attending the church for the illegal Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), or been told things by various sources.
As coordinator of the ‘religious arm’ of the PKK, Serhat said, Brunson was arranging the transfer of arms being sent by the US to the Kurdish PYD (Democratic Union Party) affiliates of the PKK. “I learned this from the son of a diplomat who had worked for years at the US Embassy [in Ankara],” Serhat claimed.
Saying Brunson talked about forming a new state and preparing for a great war, Serhat claimed he had chosen a “Kurdish pastor” for south eastern Turkey who was working among the Syrian refugees to establish Kurdish Christians in all 81 provinces of Turkey.
Categorically denying Serhat’s claims, Brunson told the court: “This witness gave not a single piece of evidence. He said, ‘I heard all this from second- or third-hand individuals.’”
Looking up at the state prosecutor and panel of three judges seated on the bench above him, Brunson said: “I am helping refugees, and they say I’m aiding the PKK. I am setting up a church, and they say I’m being supported by the Gülen network. But this is just verbal testimony from these witnesses. Where is the proof, the evidence?”
The presiding judge sharply reproved Brunson’s demand for evidence, declaring that physical proof, such as photographs or documents, was not required for the court to decide what was credible evidence.
Prosecution chooses jailed thief to testify
Brunson declared that he had never seen or met the first three open witnesses, two of whom were prisoners brought from jail under guard to testify. One of them, Ali Daloğlu, claimed he had observed Brunson three times along the Turkish border when the pastor was going back and forth between Suruç, Gaziantep and Şanliurfa, involved with Syrian Kurds. He also said he had seen Brunson meeting in a hotel in Gaziantep with an active Gülenist, who he said was giving the pastor financial aid for Syrian refugees.
Brunson flatly denied ever seeing or knowing Daloğlu or any of the four Gülenist suspects he had named, declaring his testimony “disgusting”. When Halavurt was invited to cross-examine Daloğlu, the lawyer quoted from research documents he handed over to the court, revealing that Daloğlu had an ongoing prison record of 14 arrests for automobile thievery.
The last two witnesses were personal acquaintances known to Brunson. A young neighbour living near Brunson’s home testified he had seen many foreign visitors coming and going, and had “heard” from Turks who attended another Protestant church that the pastor was supporting PKK propaganda.
The last prosecution witness named Eyüp Çakir said he had known Brunson for six years and regularly attended his church for some time, but then became uncomfortable about the influx and active involvement of Kurds in the church leadership and worship, which he considered a “provocation” among the Turkish congregation.
“The Turks were humiliated in the church,” Çakir claimed, saying other Turks like him decided to leave because PKK sympathisers formed a separate group and were praising the PKK. “In the church there were flags to support the PKK,” he claimed. “The church was like the camp of the PKK… For the past three years, his church has been promoting division.”
Brunson was asked by the presiding judge, “Why did you have relations with a person who was sympathetic to the PKK?” The pastor responded: “In our church there were both radical [Turkish] nationalists and Kurds. I am related the same way to both of them. Actually, to be Kurdish is one thing; to be PKK is another.”
“I responded to all these false charges in the first hearing of this trial,” Brunson continued. “I want to say clearly, the PKK is a terrorist organisation. I never thought differently.” Çakir admitted on the witness stand that he opened a fake Facebook page in Brunson’s name and began posting pro-terrorist items on it, vowing to Brunson: “I will destroy your PKK church.” The pastor said he told Çakir, “You are the most dangerous person in our church,” and refused to accept him back into the church.
Three defence witnesses rejected
At the close of the hearing, the 20 local observers seated with Brunson’s wife at the back of the courtroom were clearly disappointed with the judge’s ruling to decline the pastor’s request to be sent home under house arrest. But they were shocked to learn that the judicial panel had just rejected three of the 10 defence witnesses prepared to testify on Brunson’s behalf at the next hearing, because their names appear in the indictment.
The closing paragraph of the indictment lists more than 60 individuals or organisations named throughout the document, declaring them all “suspects” because of witness allegations that they were associated with Andrew Brunson and his activities. Halavurt told World Watch Monitor he is filing a formal protest over the exclusion of these three key witnesses from his defence portfolio.
Representing the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which has publicly campaigned for Brunson’s release as the innocent victim of false criminal charges, Vice Chair Sandra Jolley came from Washington to observe the trial. She was joined by Charge d’affaires Philip Kosnett and several consular officials from the US Embassy in Ankara.
Speaking to Turkish reporters outside the courthouse afterwards, Jolley said: “We leave the courthouse with serious concerns. Today’s 11 hours of proceedings were dominated by wild conspiracies, tortured logic and secret witnesses, but no real evidence to speak of. Upon these rests a man’s life.”
“The truth is that this case is part of a larger decline in personal freedoms, including religious freedom and human rights, that we are witnessing in Turkey in recent years,” Jolley noted. “We are looking to the Turkish judiciary to uphold Pastor Brunson’s innocence.”
Brunson’s US-based pastor Richard White also flew from North Carolina to attend the hearing. When he returned home, he reportedly told his congregation (which includes Brunson’s parents) that he was “sad, angry, and resolute” after watching the proceedings.
Official UN inquiry begun
This week the American Center for Law and Justice, leading US advocacy efforts for Brunson, confirmed that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has taken up his case. Accordingly, before the first trial hearing on 17 April, this independent panel of international human rights experts sent an official inquiry to the Turkish government, requesting that it refute within 60 days the allegations that Brunson’s detention is arbitrary.