Minor Who Threatened Pastor Released

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CWN - ISTANBUL, January 8 - A Turkish judge in the Black Sea coastal city of Samsun on Sunday set free a minor who confessed to making telephone death threats against a pastor and his church, a day after authorities arrested the youth.

Judge Sinan Sonmez of Samsun's First Minor Petty Offenses Court ruled that 17-year-old Semih Seymen be set free "because of his youth." The teenager had been detained the previous night in his hometown of Ordu, 90 miles from Samsun.

The judge did, however, order the youth banned from leaving the country, stating that he was to be subject to judicial control.

Interrogated by security police officials who arrested him, Seymen declared he got angry after he read postings on the Samsun Agape Church's Web site and called the listed telephone of Pastor Orhan Picaklar several times, starting on December 29.

According to Seymen's police statement, he told Picaklar, "You will die." The teenager said he hung up after Picaklar calmly responded, "All of us will die one day."

"I didn't plan to carry out any attack. I just threatened him to frighten him," the police interrogations report quoted Seymen as saying. Declaring that there was no evidence his client had committed a crime, his court-appointed lawyer concluded that the youth had made the calls to the pastor simply "as an adventure."

Picaklar reported the anonymous telephone threats to police, as five Christians have been murdered by young extremists in the past two years in Turkey. Christian leaders have faced repeated attacks, and they are receiving threats on almost a weekly basis across the country.

Seymen told police that he also had called the Trabzon Catholic Church after finding its telephone number on the Internet, but that when a woman answered he changed his mind and hung up, saying he had dialed a wrong number.

The teenager reportedly had frequent contact over the Internet and by telephone with two brothers now living in Bursa who both have prison records.

Seymen admitted he had called one of these friends on Saturday evening , and to "show off" had boasted that he was going to "do a massacre" at 11 the next morning at the Agape Church in Samsun during Sunday worship. Claiming that he was somewhat drunk at the time, he said he told his friend, "Watch me on television."

Seymen was captured in his home a few hours later by security police, who had been monitoring the teenager's telephone since Picaklar reported the threatening phone calls.

Police found a handgun fitted to shoot blanks in Seymen's possession at the time of his arrest. The high school graduate is employed in a local construction company.

The youth denied having contact with any group giving him directions or encouragement, insisting that he had made the decision himself to threaten Picaklar and acted entirely on his own.

Pastor's Protest

In an official protest filed today at the Samsun court, Picaklar objected to the decision to release the defendant on the basis of his youth.

"The defendant openly confessed," Picaklar told today's daily Taraf newspaper. "He said he was going to do a massacre tomorrow, the police heard him say this over the telephone, but because he is 'underage' he is set free?"

In his protest to the Samsun court, Picaklar said the judge's decision was contrary to legal procedures and the law. Noting that Turkish laws regarding minors only prohibit the detention of youths under the age of 15, the pastor reminded the court that all killers apprehended for murdering Christians in Turkey in the past two years have been young men, most under 18 years of age.

"The instigators behind these youths have deliberately chosen these individuals as the triggermen because of their ages, knowing they will get lighter sentences," Picaklar stated. The pastor requested that the youth be prosecuted not for just voicing threats, but for his intention to kill people.

"Once again it is clear that it is necessary to have a specific law on this issue of threats," Picaklar's lawyer today told Compass. "There is no penalty specified for making threats. But in these kinds of cases, the next step is killing! So there needs to be some punishment, maybe a year in prison, for making death threats. The Turkish law is too lenient on this."

A former Muslim who converted to Christianity 15 years ago, Picaklar has pastored the Samsun Agape Church since 2003.

A 'Bad Year'

Last month The Economist magazine led its December 19 article on Why Christians feel under threat in today's Turkey with details of the Samsun pastor's security dilemma, noting that 2007 had been "a bad year" for him.

"…He has had death threats and his church has been repeatedly stoned," the magazine reported. "Local newspapers called him a foreign agent. A group of youths tried to kidnap him as he was driving home. His pleas for police protection have gone unheeded."

The Turkish government has blamed recent deadly attacks against Christians on maverick ultranationalists, while others point to the "deep state" believed to be composed of rogue elements in the judiciary, military, and security apparatus.

Although many Turkish Christians concede that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's ruling party has treated them better than previous secular governments, they remain disillusioned with its failure to address openly the security and judicial plight of the nation's Christian citizens.

Three days after The Economist article appeared, Erdogan was quoted by the Star newspaper on December 22, declaring that the killers of Catholic priest Andreas Santoro, the three Christians in Malatya and attackers of several Christian clergy in Izmir were "the ignoramuses of Islam. A real Turk could not do this."

"In our country, everyone is on an equal level," Erdogan said. "Here 99 percent of the country are Muslim. But in this country there are followers of other religions besides Islam. The security of their religious life is ours. Just as we expect security for Muslims in other countries, they must live in security in our country."

The Economist correspondent concluded, however, that the lingering perception remains as to whether Erdogan's Justice and Development Party "believes in religious freedom for Muslims, but not Christians."

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