September 3, 2015

17 detained for holding religious meeting in İstanbul

Police raided a building in the Libadiye neighborhood of İstanbul and detained 17 businessmen on Wednesday evening who were there for a religious talk, according to the Meydan daily on Thursday.

The development was reminiscent of Turkey's singe-party era when there was significant pressure on pious people and they were not allowed to gather.

The detentions were reportedly based on testimony from a secret witness known only as "Mushap." Mushap reported that the businessmen were meeting to collect donations for scholarships and to buy sacrificial animals for the upcoming Eid al-Adha.

The financial crimes unit of the İstanbul Police Department conducted the raid.

The prosecutor who oversaw the operation ordered the search of the businessmen and the premises, as well as the detention of the 17 men without a court order. The men are being detained on terrorism charges because they were collecting donations for the faith-based Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement, against which the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government launched a war following the eruption of a corruption scandal in which senior government members were implicated in December 2013.

The government accused the movement of masterminding the probe and has since considered the movement a terrorist organization despite a complete lack of evidence or a court decision to this effect and the strong denial of all allegations from the Hizmet movement.

The police raid was based on a controversial amendment passed in December 2014 that makes it possible for the authorities to detain anyone when there is “reasonable suspicion;” there is no requirement for firm evidence. With the new law, the threshold for the burden of proof required for obtaining a search warrant was reduced from strong and credible evidence to mere reasonable suspicion. The police are not only able to easily search any individual, their home and vehicle, but also easily seize the property of all suspects on the grounds that they have committed a crime against the government.

Wednesday's police raid rekindled memories of the 1950s, when people who met in groups to read books from the Risale-i Nur collection, written by prominent Islamic scholar Bediüzzaman Said Nursi, were detained in police raids.

The “Risale-i Nur” collection is an exegesis (known locally as a tefsir) of the Quran that explains the truths of faith in accordance with modern science.

Under the AK Party government, a controversial law declaring a monopoly over the publication of the "Risale-i Nur" collection was passed last November, giving exclusive publishing and distribution rights to the Religious Affairs Directorate. The Republican People's Party (CHP) submitted an appeal to the Constitutional Court, which then annulled the disputed law last June.

The court annulled the law on the grounds that the law violates freedom of expression, the right to property and the right to artistic freedom.

Published on Today's Zaman, 3 September 2015, Thursday