Police detain Islamic leader critical of AKP gov’t during religious ritual in SE Turkey

The leader of an anti-government religious group in Turkey was detained along with a number of his followers while performing a religious ritual peculiar to the Muslim holy month of Ramadan after police raided a mosque in the southeastern province of Adana, Turkish Minute reported on Tuesday.

The detainees were Alparslan Kuytul, leader of the Furkan Foundation, who is an outspoken critic of the policies of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, his 14-year-old son Muhammed Kuytul and some of his followers. The son was handcuffed from behind as he was being detained, which led to angry reactions among social media users in the country.

The detentions were carried out while Kuytul and Furkan followers were performing itikaf, which entails isolating in a mosque or at home with the intention of dedicating your time solely to the worship of Allah in the last 10 days of Ramadan, on the grounds that they were violating COVID-19 measures.

The AKP, which had previously imposed partial, shorter lockdowns and weekend curfews in a bid to reduce the closures’ impact on the economy, decided to impose a three-week full lockdown after Turkey saw COVID-19 infections averaging around 60,000 per day during the peak week of April.

New restrictions, which took effect on the evening of April 29 and will last until May 17, will prohibit people from leaving their homes except to shop for groceries or meet other essential needs during the remainder of Ramadan as well as the three-day Eid al-Fitr holiday.

A lawyer representing Kuytul spoke to the press early on Tuesday near the Adana Police Department, where the detainees were taken for interrogation, stating that the religious leader and an estimated 200 Furkan followers were “unlawfully detained” after police raids on multiple mosques in Adana, although they were performing itikaf “in line with social distancing rules.”

“I went to the mosque where the police detained Kuytul and witnessed some very unpleasant police actions. They used force on people performing itikaf in line with COVID-19 measures, hitting and beating them while detaining them,” the lawyer said, adding that he wasn’t allowed by police to be present during his clients’ interrogation.

“Maybe my clients are being tortured during interrogation right now. There’s no sign of goodwill on the police’s part here,” the lawyer added.

The Islamist leader’s wife Semra Kuytul announced on Twitter that police also detained a group of Furkan followers who gathered in front of Kuytul’s house following his detention in the early hours of Tuesday.

On Monday police officers raided a mosque in the southeastern province of Gaziantep wearing their shoes, which is regarded as disrespectful, and used pepper spray and force to disperse Furkan followers performing itikaf, briefly detaining 56 of them, Turkish media reported, citing Kuytul.

In a statement released after the incident, the Gaziantep Governor’s Office denied that police officers raided the mosque with their shoes on, despite camera footage proving otherwise, local media reports also said.

Released pending trial in December 2019 following 22 months of incarceration, Kuytul was acquitted in November 2020 of charges of disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization.

The religious leader claims he was targeted for criticizing a crackdown launched by Erdoğan on the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, which is accused by the president of orchestrating a coup attempt in 2016 when rogue soldiers attempted a takeover that saw more than 250 killed.

Gülen and the movement deny any involvement in the abortive putsch, and critics accuse Erdoğan of targeting dissent under the pretext of an anti-coup fight.

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