TURKEY: Nine foreign Christians to be expelled for missionary activities

Highest Court Rules in Support of Government’s Expulsion of Nine Foreign Christians for Alleged “Missionary Activities
  • The highest court in Türkiye has issued a decision supporting the government on cases banning foreign Christian workers from the country under “N-82” codes designating them “risks to national security”; Six of the court’s thirteen judges issued strong dissent.
  • All nine expelled individuals now have opportunity to appeal to the European Court of Human Right.
  • ADF International supporting legal challenges of numerous other Turkish Christians who have been similarly expelled.


ADF (13.06.2024) – Türkiye’s highest court, the Constitutional Court, has ruled that the government did not violate the rights of nine foreign Christians when it effectively expelled them from the country. Each of the nine foreign individuals had legally obtained residence permits to live in Türkiye.


However, because of their alleged “missionary activities,” they were issued immigration codes that prevented them from entering or remaining in the country. The  “N-82” codes designate them “risks to national security,” thus blocking them from obtaining the necessary preauthorization to enter the country


“It has become increasingly clear as a growing number of foreign Christians are deemed national security threats each year, that Türkiye is systematically trying to extinguish Christian beliefs inside its borders.”

– Kelsey Zorzi, ADF International’s Director of Advocacy for Global Religious Freedom

Following the decision from the Court, Kelsey Zorzi, Director of Advocacy for Global Religious Freedom at ADF International, stated: “This joint decision, though decided wrongly, provides an opportunity to appeal all nine cases to the European Court of Human Rights. The government’s discriminatory targeting of Christian religious workers in Türkiye, all of whom have peacefully lived in Türkiye for many years, constitutes a clear violation of both the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenants to which Türkiye is a party. 

It has become increasingly clear as a growing number of foreign Christians are deemed national security threats each year, that Türkiye is systematically trying to extinguish Christian beliefs inside its borders. International human rights defenders are losing hope that justice will be found within Türkiye. But the European Court of Human Rights gives hope to the human rights defenders who have been working on these cases for many years,” she continued.


The nine applicants are among over thirty foreign Christians who have received “N-82” codes from Turkish authorities for carrying out religious work in the country. While several of these have reached the Constitutional Court, this decision, handed down by the Court on June 7, 2024, is the first time that the country’s highest court has issued a joint decision for separate N-82 code cases. The decision to rule jointly signals that the facts and law at hand are highly similar in each case and thus suggestive of the government’s widespread scheme to ban foreign religious workers from the country. The decision this month also marks the first time that the Constitutional Court’s General Assembly, which is the full bench of judges, issued a decision on an N-82 code case.

Perhaps most significantly, this latest decision marks the first time the Constitutional Court has been divided on an N-82 code case, allowing for dissenting judges to explain why the Court was wrong to find that no violation had occurred. All prior Constitutional Court decisions on N-82 code cases had unanimously found against the foreign Christian applicants.

Zorzi states: “These cases represent clear, widespread, and systematic violations of the right to religious freedom and respect for family and private life. The majority opinion failed to recognize that the State’s decision to categorize peaceful religious work as “a menace to public order and security” without any proof to this effect is a direct violation of the applicant’s religious freedom.

As Judge Zühtü Arslan, President of Türkiye’s Constitutional Court, explained in his dissenting opinion, “There is no concrete justification provided in either the administrative or judicial processes in the concrete case to suggest that the applicants’ activities pose a threat to public order or security…. Conversely, it is impossible to categorically and abstractly regard the ‘missionary’ activity directed at the applicants as a threat to public order or security.”

According to Orhan Kemal Cengiz, one of four lawyers representing the applicants, “The Court’s opinion, as described by dissenting judges, is replete with contradictions. Despite the clear evidence that these foreign individuals were expelled due to their alleged missionary activities, the majority of the Court failed to see any infringements on freedom of religion.”

Regarding the religious freedom implications of the Court’s decision, Can Kurtulan, another lawyer representing several of the applicants, explained: “The June 7th decision of the Constitutional Court is a concerning one regarding religious freedom. With this decision, the prevailing local jurisprudence that ‘missionary activities fall within the scope of freedom of religion and thought but can be restricted within legal limits’ has been effectively nullified. Furthermore, at no stage of the proceedings was the reason for the N-82 code imposed on the clients disclosed, making it impossible to conduct a legality review. The process will proceed to the European Court of Human Rights, and those seeking justice on this matter still have hopes.”

The cases also constitute grave violations of due process as the government refuses to provide the foreigners who are issued N-82 codes the evidence against them or explanations of any wrongdoing. As Judge Zühtü Arslan, President of Türkiye’s Constitutional Court, explained in his dissenting opinion, “The applicants were unable to acquire knowledge of the rationale behind the restriction code that was applied to them and other related procedures at any point in the concrete case subject.”

According to Cengiz, “It is undeniable that the applicants were unable to access the content of intelligence reports during their trials before the administrative courts. As a result, they were unable to present arguments against their expulsion, which violated their rights under article 1 of Protocol 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Clearly, these applicants’ right to freedom of religion and their right to family and private life have been violated.”

Concerning trend of faith-based discrimination 

Türkiye has a population of roughly 83,000,000 with an estimated 99% of the population identifying as Muslim. There are approximately 170,000 Christians in Türkiye. Although Türkiye does not have a constitutionally recognized state religion, its government is increasingly marked by Islamization and nationalism, which creates challenges for religious minorities, particularly Christians. Türkiye is a party to the Lausanne Peace Treaty, which recognizes the status of Jews, Orthodox Greeks, and Armenians but not Protestants. Türkiye is a party to the European Convention of Human Rights and is, therefore, under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

It is estimated that around 185 foreign Protestant ministers living in Türkiye have been deported or effectively banned from reentering the country since 2018. Expatriate Christian ministers are usually deported or banned from entering Türkiye by a decision of the Ministry of Interior in collaboration with the Turkish Intelligence. The ministers in question are usually issued a certain code which leads to the termination or the non-renewal of their residence permits. Other codes prohibit foreign clergy from entering the country without prior permission. The code designation is usually the result of Turkish Intelligence claiming that the Christian minister in question is a threat to national security. The files of the Turkish Intelligence are not made available to the attorneys challenging the deportation decisions, making it difficult to effectively defend their clients in the national courts and resulting in domestic court losses across the board.

Türkiye has also shut down the Protestant seminaries, forcing the country’s Christians to rely more heavily on foreign missionaries with seminary training from outside of Türkiye. The entry bans on foreign missionaries, therefore, are creating a stranglehold on trained church leaders in the country.

ADF International has supported the legal challenges of numerous foreign Christians who have received N-82 code cases, including David Byle. David was forced to leave Türkiye in 2018. His family of 7 had called it home for more than 19 years. The authorities alleged Byle was a threat to public order and security despite him successfully challenging previous charges brought against him. After leaving the country, the authorities imposed a permanent re-entry ban on David, something he only discovered upon trying to return home to his family. Exiled from Türkiye, the Byles now reside in Germany.

The missionary couple Pam and David Wilson have a similar story of expulsion after living in Türkiye for nearly four decades. In their case, however, they were assigned a G87 code. The code labels them as a “threat to security” and is normally reserved for terrorists.

Further reading about FORB in Turkey on HRWF website