Turkey Cracks Down on More Christians: US Missionary Arrested, Interrogated, Ordered to Leave

(Photo: Reuters/Umit Bektas)A man waves Turkey's national flag during the Democracy and Martyrs Rally, organized by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, November 12, 2016.

Just a day after the release of pastor Andrew Brunson in Turkey, authorities arrested another U.S. missionary, interrogating him and ordering him to leave the country.

Middle East Concern reported that David Byle, a joint U.S. and Canadian citizen, was arrested in Ankara on Saturday by the Anti-Terror Police Department.

He was reportedly interrogated but released on Sunday afternoon, and given 15 days to leave the Islamic-majority country.

"[We] have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support, not only from believers here in Turkey, but from literally all around the world. It means a lot to us and encourages us greatly to know we're not alone, that we're a part of such a great family, God's family," Byle and his family shared in a message.

The missionary has been arrested on multiple occasions in the past in Turkey, all related to his street evangelism. In 2007, he was detained for three days, but since the literature he carried did not insult Islam, he was let go.

Byle, who has been preaching in Turkey for 18 years, was also arrested in 2016. He was detained for eight days and told that he would be deported.

In February 2017, the deportation order was temporarily blocked, however, as officials failed to present evidence that he is a director, member or supporter of "terrorist organizations."

Byle's latest arrest came a day after North Carolina pastor Brunson was released by Turkey. Brunson, who along with his wife had been pastoring at a Protestant church in Izmir for 25 years, was arrested in October 2016 and charged with having links to terror groups, something which he firmly denied.

The Turkish court found him guilty of aiding terrorism, but sentenced him only to time already served, which allowed him to leave the country and fly back home to his family.

Tony Perkins, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council and a U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom commissioner, said that Brunson's release sends a strong message to Turkey.

"While we are relieved by today's decision on Pastor Brunson's unjust detention, we remain concerned for the Turkish people because numerous religious communities, such as the Greek Orthodox community and the Alevis, continue to face discrimination and restrictions on registration and ownership of property," Perkins warned.

"Turkey must continue to work to treat all of its citizens equally and with respect for their religious freedom."

Persecution watchdog group Open Doors USA lists Turkey at No. 31 on its World Watch List where Christians face the most persecution for their faith.

"Turks are expected to be Muslims, a conviction that's fostered by the government in a ploy to consolidate power. After a failed coup in July 2016, President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan has used the political instability to his advantage, trying to unify Turkey under Sunni Islam," the group explains.

"This leaves little space for minorities and indirectly results in the persecution of Christians. Within the home, converts to Christianity in particular face strong opposition for their conversion from their families, as they're seen as traitors to both Islam and the national Turkish identity."

Follow Stoyan Zaimov on Facebook: CPSZaimov