Turkey has deported 78 foreign Protestant pastors and their families since the beginning of 2019, according to a report by the Association of Protestant Churches in Turkey.
This figure includes 35 pastors in 2019, 30 in 2020, and a further 13 in 2021. “Many congregations were left in difficult straits,” said the report.
Some of the pastors were removed on the grounds of national security, with missionary activities or attendance at a Christian conference or meeting given as examples of actions threatening to the security of Turkey.
Most of the deportations used a procedure termed Code N82, which bars foreigners from entering Turkey without gaining permission in advance.
While this does not by itself lead to deportation, explains the report, “in practice, all of those who have fallen victim to this situation and applied for a visa have had those applications rejected”.
Some of the deportations have been based on Code C87, referring to individuals believed by the Turkish authorities to constitute a security risk.
“It has deeply wounded us and the code recipients,” continued the report, “that in our country this code is being given without any evidence to members of the Protestant community who are focused on living their faith, who are opposed to violence and who do not have criminal records.”
An anonymous pastor commented, “We are in no way a threat to Turkey’s security. We are subjected to this treatment just because we are Christians. We argued at the Constitutional Court that this is a violation of freedom of religion.”
The report added that in court cases the Turkish authorities have alleged that missionary activities and attendance at an Association of Protestant Churches conference constitute security concerns.
In some cases appeals to the court have been successful, the report continues, but in such cases the Turkish authorities have “not implemented the court decisions and started the litigation process again”.
While Turkey’s Protestant churches are increasing the numbers of Turkish church leaders, many congregations still rely on foreign-born pastors.
Repression of religious minorities is increasing in Turkey, which is at least 99% Muslim. Although Turkey remains technically a secular state the Christian population, which includes a small number of converts from Islam, has continued to be treated as inferior to the Muslim majority.