Memorial to Jin-Wook Kim, Diyarbakir, Turkey, Nov, 2019. (Credit: Hristiyan Haber)

Criminal investigations into the stabbing to death of a Korean Christian last week in southeast Turkey’s largest city are continuing under a cloak of judicial secrecy, as authorities search for evidence to resolve the controversy over the killer’s motive.

South Korean Jin-Wook Kim, 41, was murdered in a late-night Nov. 19 attack on the streets of Diyarbakir, while walking alone in a small alley near his home in the city’s impoverished Baglar district.

Bleeding heavily from two deep stab wounds to his heart and a third in his back, Kim stumbled onto a nearby street, where passers-by alerted the police and called an ambulance.

Despite prompt emergency medical efforts, Kim died that night at the city’s Selahattin Eyyubi State Hospital. He is survived by his wife, then pregnant with their second child, and four-year-old son. Five days later, his widow gave birth to a daughter, whom she named Sevinc (“Joy” in Turkish), as her husband had wished.

A memorial service for the murdered Christian was hosted in Diyarbakir Protestant Church on Nov 21, drawing an estimated 180 Turkish, Korean and other expatriate Christians from across Turkey to honor his life and memory.

Kim’s mother and older brother, as well as his widow’s mother and younger sister, flew from Korea to Diyarbakir to support his widow at the memorial church service. After the body was released to his family by local criminal forensics officials, Kim’s brother escorted it back to Korea on Nov. 26 for formal burial procedures.

Kim was identified by the Korean Embassy in Ankara as a businessman involved in commercial trade in Diyarbakir. After arriving in Turkey five years ago, he had enrolled in university studies in Sanliurfa, 180 km (100 miles) from Diyarbakir, and near the Syrian border. He and his family had moved to Diyarbakir this past summer.

Mourners remember murdered Korean Jin-Wook Kim, Turkey (Credit: Hristiyan Haber)

A robbery, or martyred for ‘missionary activities’?

Police statements to the Turkish press confirmed the following day that a local 16-year-old youth had been arrested as the murder assailant. The suspect reportedly testified to interrogators that he had stabbed the Korean while trying to steal his mobile phone. The teenager was reportedly known to authorities for his history of drug addiction and criminal activities.

Some local media reported that police investigators had themselves identified and then apprehended the suspect from video camera footage shot in streets close to the incident. But according to a statement released Nov. 27 by Turkey’s Association of Protestant Christians, the suspect’s father had turned his son into the police the following morning, after his son confessed he had stabbed someone the previous night.

According to friends of the murdered Korean, Kim was involved in a small house fellowship of Christians in the city and often talked about his faith with neighbors and friends in the area.

In a press notice released on Nov. 26, the Human Rights Center of the Diyarbakir Bar Association noted that allegations had been made that Kim’s murder was due to missionary activities.

“We are deeply saddened for such a tragic incident taking place in our ancient city of Diyarbakir which has hosted numerous different civilizations and has been a safe haven for diverse faiths and beliefs for centuries,” the statement said.

“Although some media reports alleged that the attack was carried out due to Mr. Kim’s missionary activities, we have not reached any findings supporting the claim in our initial research,” the report concluded, while pledging that the Bar Association would continue to follow the murder investigation.

Investigation now cloaked in secrecy

The public notice posted by Turkey’s Association of Protestant Churches (APC) about Kim’s murder warned that for the Diyarbakir investigation to proceed in a transparent manner, the crime must be examined from many aspects, not just as a robbery or random murder. That would require, the association said, lifting the judicial secrecy order, to openly inform society of the factual evidence uncovered in the investigation.

“We request that these precautionary measures be increased, to prevent similar events being repeated,” the association stated.

Several Turkish pastors and other church leaders who represented their congregations at Kim’s funeral service echoed this concern individually in comments to World Watch Monitor.

They immediately referred to a publicized incident last month in the central, conservative city of Konya, south of Ankara where billboards were posted, warning citizens not to befriend Christians and Jews, quoting a verse from the Quran. (They were signed by the Anatolian Youth Association and the Nationalist Youth Foundation, both very nationalistic groups linked closely with the MHP Nationalist Movement Party supporting the ruling AKP party). The municipality removed the signs, “but the spirit of that hate language continues,” said one pastor.

“Do not take Jews and Christians as your allies”, posted by nationalist youth organisation, Konya, central Turkey

“It was this same climate of hate speech that had preceded the Malatya massacre,” the pastors all recalled, referring to the vicious torture and murder of three Christians 12 years ago in Malatya, about 230 km (145 miles) from Diyarbakir. The five young assailants had all been convinced that these two Turkish Protestants and a German Christian were a threat to Turkey’s national security.

The local Turkish Protestant community confirmed that, a few years ago, local newspapers had told of one incident against a foreign Christian living in Diyarbakir who had been attacked and badly beaten, reportedly for sharing his faith in Christ.

“Personally, I don’t believe Kim was attacked by just one person,” one Protestant pastor told World Watch Monitor. “How could a 16-year-old boy on drugs have overcome this strong 85-kilo man who had been trained in Korean martial arts?”

Another who had been allowed to read over the autopsy several times concluded the Korean could likely have been surrounded by several people at once, with his wounds coming from several directions.

“This is very tragic,” APC President Ali Kalkandelen told World Watch Monitor after return to Istanbul from Kim’s memorial service. “But there is no evidence yet to help us understand why this happened? So we Christians are just praying for our government over this. We expect the truth to be found out, for the authorities to tell his family, and all of us Christians and the whole country, what the evidence is.”

In recent decades, Turkish prosecutors have typically instituted judicial secrecy orders to protect the confidentiality of any criminal investigations involving violence against Christian foreigners. But during these months-long investigations and the subsequent criminal trials, patently false “evidence” against the Christian victims was regularly leaked to the Turkish media, presenting non-Muslim foreigners as serious threats to Turkey’s national security.

“As a church, we trust that our government will do its best to protect all of us Christians, that this will not happen again. This has not terrified the Christian community, but God has given us courage to continue to be bold to follow our faith and share the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

One Korean Christian who spoke during the funeral stressed “We know this will cause more prayer for Turkey, and particularly for the city of Diyarbakir. The Christians of Korea and around the world will pray more because of this!”

Meanwhile, not yet a week after delivering her baby daughter, Kim’s widow is expected to soon select a local Turkish lawyer to represent them in the criminal investigation and eventual murder trial. She plans to wait until the baby is a month old before returning to Korea to visit her husband’s grave.

Whatever judicial conclusions may be reached in the investigations and during the subsequent criminal trial months later, Korean Christians have sorrowfully named Jin-Wook Kim the first Korean Christian martyred for his faith in Turkey.