Cablegate: Ahmet Guvener: Protestant Church Leader Acquitted, but Later

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

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


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

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

--------------------------------------------- ----------

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.

--------------------------------------------- --

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

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


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