Police jailed four Christian street evangelists in Istanbul for “missionary activity” at the end of April, even as government officials openly defended the right of all religious groups to carry out evangelistic work in Turkey.
According to Compass Direct News, officials released US citizen David Byle more than 48 hours after he was arrested, along with a Korean and two Turkish Christians, his wife said.
Christian sources maintained that Turkey plans to deport the Korean believer, though further details remain unknown.
The four men were detained on 25 April while sharing their Christian faith with passers-by at a park in Istanbul’s Taksim district.
Speaking to Compass from his detention cell at the new foreigners branch of the Turkish security police in Kumkapi, Byle said that an official police report charged the evangelists with missionary activity, disturbing the peace and insulting Islam.
A representative from the US Consulate in Istanbul confirmed the charges to Compass after visiting the police station where Byle was being held yesterday.
“The third charge is missionary activity, but that’s not against the law, so I’m not sure how they are going to work that one,” the consulate worker said.
Byle told Compass that the claim of insulting Islam was based on a book the evangelists were giving out, which he said politely explained that Christians cannot accept the Koran because it contradicts some of the teachings of the New Testament.
“That stuff won’t do anything in court,” Byle commented. “The only one that could was ‘disturbing the peace,’ and that’s a judgement call.”
Byle said he assumed that the case had been blown out of proportion by right-wing policemen who knew the Christians had not actually done anything illegal.
“But they think, ‘Well at least we can make his life miserable for a few days by pushing him through the system,’” Byle said.
Two of the four Christians were released hours after their arrest. Byle told Compass that he and the Korean street evangelist had not been visited by a state prosecutor, who is legally required to either throw out the case or officially charge the men within 24 hours of their arrest.
The father of five young children, Byle has been living in Turkey since 1999. The Korean street evangelist, 26, arrived in Istanbul three months ago.
Police arrested the four men after a young woman, angered that her male companion was discussing Christianity with the evangelists, complained to police that the group was “disturbing the peace,” Byle told Compass.
“With about 40 people in front of me, I said that I had just come back from the funerals in Malatya and Izmir and I met with the widows of the Christians who were killed [on 18 April at a Christian publishing house in Malatya],” Byle said. “I said I was amazed with how gentle they were and how forgiving they were of their husband’s killers.”
Byle said that no one in the crowd had a problem with his message when he told them that forgiveness was the only hope for the world. It was only during follow-up conversations that difficulties arose for the street preachers.