Evangelists Deny Proselytizing Charges
ATHENS, Greece (AP) _ Three missionaries convicted of proselytizing told an appeals court Friday they merely had tried to help an unhappy Greek teen-ager whose parents were divorced.
″We never imagined we could be doing anything wrong in befriending Costas Kotopoulos. He was emotionally disturbed. We thought we were doing something good,″ American Don Stephens, 40, told the three-member court.
Stephens, Alan Williams and Costas Macris were each sentenced in 1984 to 3 1/2 years in prison on charges of seizing the 16-year-old Kotopoulos and trying to convert him to Protestantism between October 1981 and February 1982.
Stephens, born in Colorado, is director of Mercy Ships, a San Pedro, Calif.- based interdenominational maritime relief organization. Williams, 52, is a teacher and pastor with joint British and New Zealand citizenship. Macris,50, is a Greek missionary.
They were sentenced under a 1939 law that bans proselytizing after Kotopoulos’ mother, Katerina Douka, filed charges against them. They later were freed pending the appeal hearing.
The case raises legal problems because the anti-proselytizing law appears to contravene Greece’s obligations as a Common Market member to uphold freedom of conscience and worship.
Eastern Orthodoxy, enshrined in the constitution, is practiced by 98 percent of Greece’s 10 million residents.
Stephens and Williams said they met Kotopoulos in 1981 while supervising the They were sentenced under a 1939 law that bans proselytizing after Kotopoulos’ mother, Katerina Douka, filed charges against them. They later were freed pending the appeal hearing.
The case raises legal problems beca counseled him to go home and obey his parents,” Stephens said.
Before the ship left Greece in 1982, Williams gave Kotopoulos the adress of an evangelical center in Athens run by Macris “so that he’d have young company and wouldn’t feel rejected by us.”
Kotopoulos visited Macris at the Hellenic Missionary Union’s center but did not become a member.
“I gave him a New Testament and told him to read God’s word and put it in his heart. I wasn’t seeking to change his faith...As a child, I was ridiculed and spat upon because I wasn’t Greek Orthodox,” said Macris, who worked as a missionary in New Guinea for 15 years.
An international lawyer and human rights expert, John Warwick Montgomery, told the court the missionaries’ convictions was invalid because the anti- proselytizing law had been superseded by the Common Market law guaranteeing freedom of worship in member nations. Greece joined the trade organization in 1981.
Montgomery said the conviction also violated Greece’s obligations as a signatory of the European Human Rights Convention.
A ruling in the case was expected Tuesday.