Pro-Erdoğan televangelist Adnan Oktar, his followers detained by Turkish police

İstanbul police early Wednesday detained Adnan Oktar (62), a controversial Muslim televangelist known abroad as “Harun Yahya” over the work done on his anti-evolution theory.

Police also launched an operation to arrest 235 people who are suspected to have links with his “gang,” according to a report by Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency.

Oktar, a well-known supporter of the anti-democratic policies of Turkey’s Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, had reportedly been placed on a wanted list issued by the financial crimes unit of the İstanbul Police Department.

Police teams raided Oktar’s house in İstanbul’s Çengelköy neighborhood and detained him and his bodyguards in the early hours of Wednesday.

Turkish prosecutors issued detention warrants for 235 of Oktar’s followers in Ankara, Muğla and Antalya as well as İstanbul, where 235 locations were raided, resulting in the detention of 166 people, 106 of whom are women.

The raids were carried out by the İstanbul Police Department’s financial crimes unit.

In the meantime, a Turkish court seized Oktar’s assets.

According to a statement from the İstanbul Security Directorate, the accusations against Oktar and his followers include sexual harassment of minors, sexual assault, establishing an organized crime organization, international espionage, money laundering, the threatening and blackmailing of individuals, political and military espionage, the kidnapping of a child and fraud through the abuse of religious beliefs.

Speaking to the Cumhuriyet daily after the launch of the operation, Oktar said he and his followers supported the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and President Erdoğan in the elections held on June 24; hence, he was surprised to see that they were the targets of such an operation.

“We are people who are loyal to their homeland and the nation. At a time when operations should be conducted against the PKK [outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party] and enemies of the homeland and the nation, they are carried out against us. I think neither Mr. Erdoğan nor the interior minister has knowledge about this operation. I am not offended [at them], but I am surprised,” said Oktar.

Oktar is a controversial TV personality whose show mixes theological discussions with visits from attractive young female devotees called “kittens.” The kittens call Oktar “master” and sometimes hold their own discussions about why the theory of evolution is fallacious.

Oktar and his group have faced similar allegations in the past.

In his first remarks, Oktar claimed that the detentions were a “play of the British deep state,” a conspiracy theory often used by Oktar to explain events around the world.

Most recently, a Turkish man living in Austria had accused Oktar of brainwashing his daughters into submission. Elvan Koçak, who divorced his wife years ago for her devotion to Oktar, told a Turkish TV station that his two teenage daughters were brainwashed by Oktar, according to Turkey’s pro-Erdoğan media.

Oktar, who first made headlines in the 1980s when he was arrested for promoting theocracy, was charged with blackmail and arrested in September 1999, but the charges were dismissed after a two-year-long trial when the court found him to be mentally ill. He spent 10 months in a psychiatric hospital and after his release kept a relatively low profile.

Oktar surrounds himself with young women and good-looking men during his programs where he delves into everything from evolution theory to the “British deep state” on his A9 TV station. He affectionately calls the young women on his show “kittens.” His critics claim that he brainwashes young women and men from wealthy families into joining his cult, a claim he has repeatedly denied.

Oktar owns a TV station called “A9″ where he hosts a show discussing religious and social issues while surrounding himself with surgically enhanced women, who he refers to as his “kittens.”

The objectification of women in his shows often comes under heavy criticism from women’s rights groups and both conservative and secular segments of Turkish society. His show was previously fined by the country’s broadcasting watchdog Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK).

Oktar established a foundation in 1995 and started publishing books on creationism. He became a household name after he launched a TV station in 2011 where his bizarre TV shows stirred up controversy and made him a favorite topic of Internet memes.

Bordering on obscenity, as scantily clad dancers perform in between Oktar’s speeches peppered with religious references, his shows often receive complaints to the country’s TV watchdog.

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