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WikiLeaks: 2004-06-14: 04ADANA68: Ahmet Guvener: Protestant Church Leader Acquitted, but later Zoning Reversal Clouds Issue

Posted: Thursday, October 27, 2011 at 01:06 PM CT


Viewing cable 04ADANA68, AHMET GUVENER: PROTESTANT CHURCH LEADER ACQUITTED, BUT LATER

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
04ADANA68 2004-06-14 06:13 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Consulate Adana
This record is a partial extract of the original cable.
The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ADANA 000068 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM ECON TU SY IZ ADANA
SUBJECT: AHMET GUVENER: PROTESTANT CHURCH LEADER ACQUITTED,
BUT LATER ZONING REVERSAL CLOUDS ISSUE 
 
REF: ANKARA 001717 
 
1.  (SBU) SUMMARY:   A Diyarbakir court acquitted Protestant 
church leader Ahmet Guvener on May 12 based on the latest 
constitutional amendments accepted by the Turkish Parliament. 
Guvener faced charges of operating a church in a building 
authorized to be constructed solely as a house, not as a place 
of worship.  Local authorities subsequently denied the church's 
zoning application, leaving its legal status in doubt.  END 
SUMMARY. 
 
GOT INSIGHTS 
--------------------- 
 
2.  (SBU) On May 11, consulate personnel met with an official 
from the Diyarbakir Governorate to discuss Diyarbakir Protestant 
Church leader Ahmet Guvener's upcoming court hearing.  The 
Diyarbakir 3rd Lower Court charged Guvener with operating a 
church in a building authorized to be constructed solely as a 
house, not as a place of worship.  Previously, on April 2, 2003, 
the Diyarbakir 2nd Felony Court acquitted Guvener of similar 
charges. 
 
3.   (SBU)  The Diyarbakir Governorate official expressed doubts 
about Guvener's sincerity.  The official noted that in 
1991,Guvener, a Turkomen Alevi, converted to Christianity.  In 
spite of the doubts, the Governorate official stated that there 
had been no action taken to close the Diyarbakir Protestant 
Church.  Considering the importance of EU harmonization laws and 
Turkey's image as a country of religious freedom, the 
Governorate chose to be tolerant and wait for the outcome of the 
court hearing, the official noted. 
 
4.  (SBU)  On May 11, consulate personnel met again with Ahmet 
Guvener to discuss the court hearing.  Guvener stated that he 
applied for building permission in 2001 for a house because at 
that time there was no provision in the zoning law for a place 
of worship other than a mosque.  Subsequently, in December 2003, 
the law changed to allow for zoning for a "ibadethane" or place 
of worship (REFTEL).   Guvener explained that he wanted to 
reapply, but that the new law required a 2,500 square meter area 
for a place of worship and he did not believe that the church 
would be able to meet this requirement.  The church leader added 
that, up until the passage of the December 2003 law, the 
Diyarbakir Protestant Church had been compliant in every way 
possible.  Guvener asserted that there were no known complaints 
from residents or businesses in the church neighborhood and that 
the congregation enjoyed a positive relationship with the local 
neighborhood. 
 
COURT CASE -  CRIMINAL ACQUITTAL 
--------------------------------------------- ---------- 
 
5.  (SBU)  On May 12, consulate personnel attended Guvener's 
court hearing at the Diyarbakir 3rd Lower Court.  Foreign 
spectators crowded the small courtroom, including members of the 
South African Church Union, the Compass Direct Middle East 
Bureau Chief (a Christian press organization), a German resident 
of Turkish descent who is a  member of the congregation, and the 
American citizen Diyarbakir Protestant Church pastor.  Guvener's 
lawyer showed up ten minutes late for the 0900 scheduled court 
hearing, accompanied by a representative from a Dutch human 
rights organization.  The hearing commenced about 0920 after a 
further delay while the Compass Direct Bureau Chief sought, and 
was granted, permission to take photographs. 
 
6.  (SBU)  The Diyarbakir 3rd Lower Court acquitted Guvener 
based on the latest Constitutional amendments accepted by the 
Turkish Parliament.  Article 90 of the Turkish Constitution 
accepts the superiority of the international law over the 
domestic law.  The Public Prosecutor cited article 9 of the 
European Human Rights Accord, which provides that individuals 
have the right to practice their religion individually or 
collectively, openly, by teaching, practicing, meditating, or 
persuading others in the direction of their religion.  The 
Public Prosecutor found this international law to take 
precedence over the domestic law under which Guvener had been 
charged, and therefore said Guvener's actions no longer 
constituted a crime. 
 
ZONING OBSTACLES RE-APPEAR 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
 
7. (SBU)  Subsequently, on May 17, Guvener's church was notified 
that its December 23, 2003 request for rezoning as a place of 
worship had been denied by a Diyarbakir committee which protects 
cultural and historic sites because of the need for places of 
worship to be at least 2, 500 square meters in size.  (Note: 
Guvener's church is located opposite an historical Syriac 
Christian church's entrance, which is itself hidden by a large 
perimeter wall.  From the street it is not apparent that a 
Syriac Christan site is located there.  Nevertheless, the 
committee has at times maintained that they are trying to 
protect the "integrity" of that Syriac site by scrutinizing the 
zoning of surrounding buildings.  End Note.) 
 
8. (SBU)  COMMENT:  The Diyarbakir Governorate official was very 
forthcoming about Guvener's case when consulate personnel met 
with him.  The official discussed the details quite openly and 
demonstrated a clear understanding that the outcome of the 
hearing would be seen by observers in both the EU and the US as 
an indication of the state of religious tolerance in southeast 
Turkey. 
 
8.  (SBU) The atmosphere in the Diyarbakir 3rd Lower Court was 
more like a press event than a court hearing, and the presiding 
judge and prosecutor demonstrated unusual tolerance.  The judge 
waited patiently despite the late arrival of Guvener's defense 
attorney.  Neither the prosecutor nor the judge placed any 
restriction on the Compass Direct Bureau Chief who wandered 
freely around the courtroom taking photographs throughout the 
entire hearing.  GoT officials in Diyarbakir initially seemed to 
have grasped the international significance of this hearing, 
however their subsequent zoning denial based on a law which 
would also exclude use of the bulk of the province's existing 
mosques as places of worship, were it to be uniformly applied, 
leaves the church's status once again unclear.  This subsequent 
zoning decision also draws into question GoT commitment to 
implementation of the EU reform package law meant to clear the 
way for free and open worship by all faiths in Turkey.  END 
COMMENT. 
 
REID


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