Malatya Massacre suspects freed

Necati Aydin, Ugur Yuksel and Tilmann Geske killed in 2007.

Necati Aydin, Ugur Yuksel and Tilmann Geske killed in 2007.

Turkey (MNN) — More eyes are turning to Turkey as April 10 draws near. That’s when five men suspected of brutally killing three Christians in 2007--eventually dubbed the “Malatya Massacre” by Turkish press–will give their last defense before being sentenced.

It hasn’t come without controversy. Under a package of new laws passed by the Turkish Parliament, the detention limit for suspects on trial who have not yet been convicted was reduced from 10 to 5 years. That means the five men are no longer in prison.

IN Network Turkey Country Director Behnan Konutgan says the Church in Turkey is hopeful.

“They [the suspects] will be put again in a prison, and they will [be] forever and ever in a prison. I mean long life–long life sentence,” says Konutgan.

On April 18, 2007, two Turkish Muslim-background believers and a German missionary working at a Christian publishing house in Malatya suddenly found their lives on the line.

Konutgan recalls, “They were publishing New Testaments and distributing New Testaments, and five people [got] into the office and [bound] those people, and killed them–brutally killed them.”

Necati Aydin, Ugur Yuksel, and Tilmann Geske were reportedly tied to chairs, tortured, and interrogated about their Christian activities, according to Morning Star News. Then, the killers slit the men’s throats as police arrived on the scene.

The attack shocked churches in the region; believers as far away as Istanbul knew the victims, according to SAT-7. Aydin had played the role of Jesus Christ in a TURK-7 Easter production.

While many suspects were initially apprehended, officials quickly narrowed down their selection to five. Court records indicate these men have stated they were “defending their country and religion, Islam.”

After years of delay tactics from the defendants’ legal team, it appeared as though the Malatya Massacre case was finally drawing to a close at the end of February. State Prosecutor Zafer Hazar demanded three consecutive life sentences for the five killers, Christian Today reports. In addition, the presiding judge expressed his desire to conclude the case by June 2014.

However, a new Turkish law allowed the men to be released from prison earlier this month.

“The government did this to release the generals,” explains Konutgan.  “There have been around 340 generals in big ranks in the prison, and they wanted to make [them] free. With those people, the killers also were freed.”

The suspects’ release caused an initial uproar, and it wasn’t contained to the Christian community.

“The whole country, I tell you: the President himself, ministers, and journalists are not happy with this,” Konutgan notes.

“The Minister of Justice himself said that he was really sorry. He assured our brothers, he assured the church, that those killers will soon be back into prison again, and they will be under control.”

To appease the public, courts restricted the suspects to house arrest. They’ve placed the men on “tethers,” or electronic monitoring devices, and restricted them to a 200-meter perimeter around their containment facility.

As the clock ticks down to April 10, many people are concerned the suspects will try to flee the country. Pray against this, and that pray the victims’ families will finally see justice.

Is there a silver-lining to this story?  Konutgan says, yes. “Since then there [is] no real danger for the Christians and freely we distribute the Gospel. Now, we are ‘more free’ than ever. And the churches are growing.”

Konutgan and other Turkish believers are remembering their slain comrades by visiting Malatya on April 18. They’re going for another reason, too. “That day, the Malatya church has built a place and the church will be opening then. So we will remember our brothers and attend the opening of the church.”

Pray that this new church in Malatya will shine the light of Christ brightly.

Konutgan is urging you to “remember the Church in the Middle East. Pray that those Christians will be courageous to defend the Gospel, even though [they’re] in the midst of tribulation.”

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