Turks in Christian murder trial

Türkiye Materials 23 November 2007 06:46 (UTC +04:00)

Five young men are due to go on trial in eastern Turkey, accused of killing three Christians earlier this year.

The Christians, who included a pastor and a German missionary, were stabbed repeatedly and had their throats cut.

The suspects, aged 19 and 20, were detained at the scene of the crime, a Protestant publishing house in Malatya.

The murders have prompted three Christian families to leave the town, leaving only around two dozen people in its small Protestant community.

The five suspects face three life sentences each, while two other are charged with membership of a terrorist organisation.

The killings were gruesome, condemned at the time by Turkey's prime minister as savage.

The three Christians had their hands and feet bound.

They were stabbed repeatedly, then had their throats cut.

One was a local pastor, another a German missionary who had lived in Turkey with his family for several years.

The murders came a year after a Catholic priest was killed in northern Turkey and just months after the murder of ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.

In all cases, the alleged killers have been nationalist-minded young men or even teenagers.

In Malatya, the accused claimed to police they were acting to protect Turkey against a plot to undermine Islam and divide the country.

The state prosecutor has asked for three life sentences for each man charged with murder.

But a lawyer acting for the victims' families says he is concerned by the tone of the indictment.

More than half of the 31 files focus on the missionary work of the men murdered.

They includes contact details of those people they approached.

The lawyer believes that will help those accused plead provocation.

There are only around 100,000 Christians left in Turkey, less than 1% of the population.

But nationalists view missionaries in particular as a threat, especially in remote places like Malatya. ( BBC )