ISTANBUL (Compass) -- Two of three prosecution witnesses called to testify against a Turkish Christian accused of slandering Islam gave opposing statements before a Diyarbakir court on March 27. A third accuser failed to appear, despite a court summons.
It was the second hearing before the Diyarbakir Criminal Court of First Instance against Kemal Timur, 32, a convert from Islam to Christianity who attends a small Protestant fellowship in Diyarbakir, in southeast Turkey.
The defendant was indicted by the local prosecutor's office last October on accusations of violating Article 175 of the Turkish penal code. If convicted, he could be sentenced for six months to one year in prison for religious slander. Timur categorically denied the charges at his first court hearing on January 30.
According to the written indictment, the three complainants had heard Timur declare, "My religion is the true religion, not yours. Mohammed is a sorcerer."
Prosecution witness Izzet Ikiz told the court that he had not heard Timur make the alleged slanderous remarks. He confirmed, however, that he had seen the defendant distributing New Testaments in front of a local high school on May 1, the date of the alleged incident.
But the second witness called to the stand, Cevdat Soykan, testified on the record that he had heard Timur make the alleged statements.
After duly recording the conflicting statements, the presiding judge set a third hearing for May 31 and ordered the absent third witness, Oguzhan Onal, to be subpoened to appear.
"In my opinion," Timur's lawyer A. Kadir Pekdemir told Compass, "the court must close this case because of conflicting testimony."
Although Turkish law freely allows the sale and distribution of religious literature that is not politically motivated, police authorities frequently detain anyone doing so in a public place.
Timur had been stopped and picked up by Diyarbakir police while distributing New Testaments at least eight times in the five months before this particular incident, he said. But since his activities did not violate the law, no charges were pressed and he was released.
Even so, the convert said, he had been threatened by some of the police officers who detained him last May that if he did not stop handing out Christian Scriptures, he would be "punished."
Timur, who is married with two children, has officially changed his religion on his national identity card from Muslim to Christian.