Dying for free speech

turkish bibleWhat would the news coverage look like if three Muslims were found with their throats slit in an Islamic publishing house in a northern Scotland town? Two victims were citizens of the United Kingdom and one was from Morocco, and the apprehended suspects said they did it for their country because "they are attacking our religion." I'd wager that the news coverage would be front-page just about everywhere.

The news out of Turkey has trickled out and splashed on the inside pages of most of the nation's papers. The report that has dominated the coverage so far is an Associated Press account by Benjamin Harvet. But the report is short on details and focuses largely on the political implications of the murders:

By BENJAMIN HARVEY -- Police detained five more people Thursday in connection with an attack on a Christian publishing house that killed three employees, doubling the number of suspects in custody, a Turkish official said.

One group of suspects detained in the slayings Wednesday told investigators they carried out the killings to protect Islam, a Turkish newspaper reported.

The attack added to concerns in Europe about whether this predominantly Muslim country -- which is bidding for EU membership -- can protect its religious minorities. It also underlined concerns about rising Turkish nationalism and hostility toward non-Muslims.

'We didn't do this for ourselves, but for our religion,' Hurriyet newspaper quoted a suspect as saying. 'Our religion is being destroyed. Let this be a lesson to enemies of our religion.'

There is little mention of the significance that the murders took place in a publishing house. That the victims were in the business of publishing the Bible makes this a free-speech issue. Reporters should not only ask Christians in general how they feel about living in Turkey, but they should ask how they feel about printing, distributing and reading Christian literature, particularly the Bible.

Reporter Sabrina Tavernise filed stories for both the U.S. The New York Times and for The International Herald Tribune's Europe edition. The key difference is in the headlines. The Times version reads "3 Evangelicals Found Slain in East Turkey," while the IHT version reads "5 held in Turkey after killings in Bible publishing house."

Why the difference and when did the victims become evangelicals? According to Tavernise, the information came from this Reuters story by Seyhmus Cakan:

The government and other officials in Turkey have criticized Christian missionary work while the European Union, which Turkey hopes to join, has called for more freedom for the tiny Christian minority.

"We would like a government campaign to get rid of the myths, such as that missionaries are trying to divide the country, these are the things which feed such acts," said Carlos Madrigal, an evangelical pastor who knew the victims and said they were also evangelical protestants.

"In some ways the situation has improved because we have got legal rights ... but there are parts of society which have become radicalized," Madrigal, whose Istanbul church has police protection since the Dink murder, told Reuters.

I'd like to know more about the victims. It's a key aspect of the story. Were these people part of a missionary endeavor of sorts? I'm hoping that a reporter out there doesn't let these three people's memory slip away. I hope they'll be remembered in a way honoring the others who were killed for publishing information or trying to practice their beliefs.

It's been an unusual week for news, and I wonder what type of coverage these murders would get when the media are not focused on covering the worst school massacre in modern American history.

Overall the coverage of this incident has been fairly lackluster. The BBC has this report but nothing from The Washington Post or any of the major television networks. Most of the coverage has ignored the obvious religion issues in this story and instead focused on how this will affect Turkey's chances of getting into the European Union.

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