Turkish court jails five men for life over murder of Christians

September 28, 2016 11:14 AM EDT

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A Turkish court sentenced five men on Wednesday to three consecutive life sentences each for the murder of three Christians, including a German national, nearly a decade ago.

In the 115th hearing in the trial, the court in the city of Malatya found the men guilty of premeditated murder when they cut the throats of the employees of a Bible publishing house on Easter Sunday in 2007, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

Two military officers were also sentenced to around 14 years in prison for "violating secret communications and forging official documents", while 16 defendants were acquitted, Anadolu said. No further details were provided.

The victims were employees of a Protestant publishing house in the eastern city of Malatya. Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel were Turkish converts from Islam, while Tilmann Geske was a German national.

Turkey's population of 78 million people is officially more than 99 percent Muslim but also includes an estimated 100,000 Christians. The European Union, which Turkey aspires to join, has often criticized Ankara's record on protecting the rights of its religious and ethnic minorities, including Christians.

In its progress report on Turkey's accession bid, the EU cited the slow-moving trial of the Protestants' killers to highlight its concerns about the quality of Turkish criminal investigations.

The defendants were detained at the publishing house in the immediate aftermath of the crime. Their victims were found with their throats cut after they had been tortured.

The suspects were released from prison in 2012 and kept under electronic surveillance during their trial.

(Reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley; Editing by Ece Toksabay and Gareth Jones)

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