Date posted: December 19, 2016
CHIP LE GRAND
Turkish imams preaching in Melbourne and Sydney mosques have been instructed to spy on Australian supporters of Fethulah Gulen, an exiled cleric blamed by President Recep Erdogan for the failed July coup bid in Ankara.
Details of how the Turkish government is using religious networks to inform against political opponents living abroad have emerged amid a “charm offensive’’ by the Erdogan regime to strengthen its support across the Muslim world.
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, a staunch Erdogan ally, recently received a large delegation of Australian Muslim leaders who travelled to Ankara to show solidarity with Turkey’s government.
The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils delegation was organised by AFIC board member Kazim Ates, a prominent commentator on Turkish affairs on SBS Radio. Mr Ates supports the ruling party, AKP, and said he believed the hierarchy of the Gulen movement was “evil’’.
The delegation, led by AFIC president Keysar Trad, met Mr Yildirim, his top advisers and other Turkish MPs and attended a session of the Turkish parliament. Mr Trad said that since returning, he had several meetings with Turkey’s ambassador to Canberra and leaders of the Hizmet movement founded by Mr Gulen.
“We see ourselves as peacemakers,’’ Mr Trad told The Australian. “We believe the elected government in Turkey deserves to be supported. We also believe that if there is anything we can do to create peace between the government and the Hizmet movement we should do that.’’
Since the failed coup which left 265 people dead, the Erdogan regime has savagely purged academics, teachers, lawyers and judges with ties to the Hizmet movement. An Australian professor arrested in Ankara shortly after the coup has spent five months in jail without charge. It is estimated more than 50,000 people have been detained and more than 100,000 purged from their jobs.
The English language Hurriyet Daily News has reported that Turkey’s ministry of religious affairs, the Diyanet, had compiled intelligence reports on Gulen supporters from information provided by imams posted to 38 countries, including Australia. Mr Ates said he was not aware of imams spying on worshippers but if they were, the practice was neither new nor unexpected. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the imams have been asked to prepare reports,’’ he said. “From the time the republic was founded civil servants were expected to be the agents of the government.’’
Turkish mosques in Australia have traditionally used imams supplied by the Diyanet, which also provides Friday sermons for imams to deliver throughout the Turkish-speaking world.
Under Mr Erdogan, the Diyanet has become overtly political. Anti-terrorism expert Greg Barton said this was creating deep tensions in Turkey communities abroad. “There is a very aggressive program around the world, through the Turkish Foreign Minister and also through the Diyanet, which is basically a campaign of coercion and surveillance of the Turkish diaspora,’’ Professor Barton said.
Source: The Australian , December 20, 2016