Who are Hakan Tastan and Turan Topal?

CompassTurkeyDuring this busy week, I have been watching to see if two men's names showed up, at any point, in Google News. I mean showed up in mainstream news sites, not the sites that care about issues like religious liberty. Of course, once upon a time, we could assume that, as a rule, journalists tended to care quite a bit about issues like free speech and the rights of oppressed minority groups. Where is A.M. Rosenthal when you need him?

Anyway, the names are Hakan Tastan and Turan Topal (left to right in the photo).

You can find out why they are important by flashing back to an AsiaNews report from earlier this month.

But I have been watching to see if their names surfaced in coverage of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Turkey. Why? To answer that question we have to turn to some form of advocacy media -- like this Compass Direct report by veteran journalist Barbara G. Baker (a friend of this blog), which was, thank goodness, picked up by Baptist Press.

To cut to the chase, these two men continue to be accused of "insulting Turkishness" because they have, as evangelicals, tried to do evangelical things. You know, the kinds of basic free-speech activities that people can do in countries that are part of the European Union. I think.

Formally the two Christians are charged with violating Article 301 of the Turkish penal code, under which scores of Turkish intellectuals and writers have been prosecuted in the past 18 months for allegedly denigrating "Turkish identity." The former Muslims also are accused under separate statutes of reviling Islam (Article 216), as well as secretly compiling files on private citizens for a Bible correspondence course without the individuals' knowledge or permission (Article 135).

"We don't use force to tell anyone about Christianity," Tastan said. "But we are Christians, and if the Lord permits, we will continue to proclaim this."

Describing himself and Topal as "citizens of the Republic of Turkey who love its democratic, secular system," Tastan emphasized that he and Topal had nothing to hide in defending themselves in court. "We are not ashamed to be Turks. We are not ashamed to be Christians."

Now, what does this sound like from the other side of the issue, from the side of the rising tide of -- depending on who is doing the labeling -- the "ultranationalists" or in some cases "Islamists." Are the Christian men anti-secularist or anti-Islam? Which label will get you jailed or killed quickest?

The attorney pushing to silence Tastan and Topal is Kemal Kerincsiz:

"Christian missionaries working almost like terrorist groups are able to enter into high schools and among primary school students," Kerincsiz told reporters. "They deceive our children with beautiful young girls."

At this, one Turkish Christian in the crowd shouted, "He's lying!" Several nationalist demonstrators reacted violently, starting to shove the converts' supporters and hitting one. But police promptly intervened to detain and remove the attacker, releasing him a few minutes later.

The Christian who had been struck also was detained briefly by the authorities, who questioned him and then photocopied his identity card before releasing him.

. . . By this time, a group of local nationalists had unfurled a banner in front of the cameras reading, "Missionaries: Keep your hands off our schools and children."

There's a lot more to read. Here is my question: Why isn't this mainstream news if the back story to the papal visit is Turkey's bid to enter the European Union and, well, the Western world built on some form of rule of law? I am glad that "Christian news agencies" cover these stories, believe me. I respect the work they do. But why do I need to read about this religious-liberty issue on "religious" news sites?

I want to read about this in the elite MSM newspapers and wire services. It's news.

Right? Does religious liberty matter? Does free speech matter? How about the freedom of assembly? And isn't this linked, in a way, with the freedom of the press?

Photo from Compass Direct News.

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