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Missionary forced to leave Turkey appeals to ECHR: 'God called us there'

David Byle
David Byle |

David Byle, a Canadian-American Christian who was forced to leave Turkey after 19 years because of his evangelistic work, has filed a deportation complaint with the European Court of Human Rights.

Alliance Defending Freedom International announced it filed an application on Byle’s behalf with Europe’s top human rights court.

“Everyone has the right to choose their religion and to express it publicly and privately. Being forced to suddenly leave the country you have called home for two decades simply because of what you believe is the stuff of nightmares,” said Robert Clarke, deputy director of ADF International. 

“By ratifying the European Convention on Human Rights, Turkey has agreed to protect the right to religious freedom. We are hopeful that the Court will take the opportunity to hear the case of David Byle and hold Turkey to account.”

Byle, a street evangelist who holds joint U.S. and Canadian citizenship, had lived in Turkey since 2000. After being arrested several times while conducting street evangelism, he was detained for eight days in 2016, and a deportation order was stopped. 

In 2017, Byle was granted an injunction that allowed him to stay until the result of the case was delivered. However, he unexpectedly faced further arrest and was given a new order to leave the country within 15 days.

Then, in 2018, after 20 months in bureaucratic limbo, Byle was arrested and detained overnight by security police in Ankara, the Turkish capital. His detention took place the morning after American Pastor Andrew Brunson was ordered released by an Izmir court and allowed to return to the United States.

Although Byle was initially informed that he would be deported the next day, the long-term resident of Turkey was then released and ordered to leave Turkey within days. He finally departed from Turkey on Oct. 25, 2018. 

Though missionary activity is legal in Turkey, authorities alleged Byle was a threat to public order and security and imposed a permanent re-entry ban on the Christian, something he only discovered upon trying to return to his family. Currently, Byle is living with his family in Germany.

According to ADF, Byle shared his faith for years but noticed “growing harassment as the police became skeptical of this public display of Christianity” beginning in 2007.

“Whenever we spoke in public, people were excited to listen and learn. For a long time, we were successfully able to fight the government attempts to stop our ministry, because we were only making use of our right to religious freedom, protected by the Turkish constitution,” Byle said. 

“The government did not want us in Turkey, but plenty of people do. God called us there, he wants the Turkish people to hear about Him and to know that He is doing wonderful things.”

ADF charges that Turkey's political scene has caused the government to clamp down even more severely, and Christian pastors and their families are being threatened daily.

According to the legal group, Turkey has created a “chilling effect” by mistreating Christians, especially missionaries from other countries. 

ADF Legal Officer Lidia Rieder called the display of hostility toward Byle and other Christians a “deliberate attempt to stifle the spreading of Christianity, and represent an attack on religious freedom.”

“David’s missionary work, although legal under both the European Convention and Turkish national laws, is at the heart of the authorities’ decision to deport him and to ban him from the territory of the country,” Rieder stated.“It is a serious violation to use immigration laws as an instrument to interfere with a person’s fundamental right to manifest his religious beliefs.”

Though Byle’s filing is the first case to make its way to the ECHR, at least 63 cases of deportation have occurred since 2019, according to a 2020 report from International Christian Concern. 

ICC notes that Byle and ADF’s success in bringing the case to the ECHR “provides hope for the future of expatriate Christians living in Turkey and has the potential to set a new precedent.”

In its 2020 report, Human Rights Watch noted that “Turkey has been experiencing a deepening human rights crisis over the past four years with a dramatic erosion of its rule of law and democracy framework.”

Turkey is ranked 25 on Open Door USA's World Watch List of 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. 

Since the 2020 World Watch List, the country jumped nine places, reflecting the "increasing and stifling impact of religious nationalism on Christianity and a clear increase in reported violence.”

Brunson, who was imprisoned for his faith in Turkey for two years, was released in October 2018 only after the Trump administration imposed sanctions on the country.

Despite severe persecution, Brunson said he believes God is “moving powerfully” in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and other Middle Eastern regions.

“I believe that millions of Muslims will begin to follow Jesus Christ,” he said at a National Religious Broadcasters event last year. “What God has shown us is that this powerful move will come in difficult circumstances. God allows the things of the foundations we trust in to be shaken to get our attention. He allows it in our country, and He allows it in other places.”

“There is going to be a harvest in the most dangerous and the most difficult places, and this means that there is risk to those who are going to gather the harvest in those places,” he added. 

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