A Korean evangelist was murdered in southeast Turkey amid escalating persecution in the Middle Eastern country, sparking fear among the Christian community.
Persecution watchdog International Christian Concern reported that Jinwook Kim, 41, was stabbed three times on the street in the Turkish city of Diyarbakir on November 19. He later died of his injuries in a hospital.
Kim had been a resident in Turkey for five years and was living in Diyarbakir, having moved there earlier this year with his family to pastor a small Christian community. He was married with one child and another due within days.
Turkish authorities have arrested a 16-year-old in association with the murder, which they say was motivated by robbery. However, local believers are urging police to investigate the incident as an assassination, rather than an attempt at extortion.
“This wasn’t just a robbery; they came to kill him,” said a Turkish evangelist, who received a death threat the day after the incident. “We always get threats. A brother prophesied a few days ago that they (the government) are going to kick out these foreigners, and probably kill a few Turkish brothers. They are going to cause chaos. They know that I am trying to spread the Gospel, so they may target me too. This may be a sign.”
Kim’s death marks the first martyrdom in Turkey since the Zirve Publishing House murders that took place in the southeastern city of Malatya in 2007. At the time, two Turkish Christian converts and a German man were found with their hands and feet tied to chairs and their throats cut in the office of a publishing house that printed Bibles.
Still, Christians in the country say that animosity toward the Christian community has increased over the last three years, with harassment and threats on the rise. Turkey is considered a Tier 2 Country of Particular Concern by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
“This is the first martyrdom since Malatya,” one church leader in Turkey told ICC. “The Turkish government has started a massive deportation of Protestant leaders who served in Turkey for many years. But deportation isn’t enough for evangelists. This kind of attack would scare [them]. I think this is the last level of a plan, being like China.”
In recent years, the government of authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has launched a crackdown on anything and anyone it suspects of having ties to groups the government considers to be terrorists.
Persecution watchdog Open Doors USA notes that missionaries to Turkey, in particular, are under increasing scrutiny.
North Carolina missionary Andrew Brunson was arrested and detained in Turkey for over two years before his release in 2018 on trumped-up charges of terror connections, espionage, and “Christianization,” deemed a “hostile act.”
Brunson, who spent over 23 years in Turkey before his arrest, told the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in June that he knows of dozens of foreign church leaders and their family members that Turkey has deported in recent months for being a “threat to national security.”
In October, a Canadian-American Christian evangelist, serving as a Turkey missionary, was arrested and detained the morning after Brunson’s release. He was released and ordered to leave the country within 15 days after living and ministering 19 years in Turkey.
Additionally, Pastor Esmaeil Falahati, a former Muslim who fled to Turkey after spending over a month in Iran’s most notorious prison for preaching the Gospel, told The Christian Post last month that at least 30 foreign Christian evangelists have faced sudden deportation this year. This, he said, signifies an “alarming new trend for the more permanent Christian community in-country.”
Claire Evans, ICC’s Regional Manager for the Middle East, said Kim’s murder and the increasing persecution of Christians in Turkey “shows just how much the country has changed.”
“Just this year, we have seen a significant increase in incidents proving how the environment has grown more hostile toward Christianity,” she said. “We offer our heartfelt condolences to the family and pray for God’s peace for them through this difficult time. We also urge the authorities to set public examples of religious tolerance, and to investigate this incident with honesty and due process of law.”
Turkey is ranked 26th on Open Doors USA’s World Watch List of countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.