Turkey urges Greece to stop pressure on elected muftis in Western Thrace, respect ECtHR decisions

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The Foreign Ministry warned Greece against usurping the prerogatives of the elected muftis in Western Thrace shortly after the country passed a law amending the way Islamic law is applied in the region, demanding that the law to be more inclusive.

According to the bill that changes the application of Islamic law, Muslim Turks in Western Thrace, a region that is dominated by a Turkish minority, will be able to choose between civil courts or Sharia courts to settle family issues and inheritance matters.

In a statement released Thursday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said no consultations were made with elected muftis, similar to previous the bills that modified their prerogatives.

The ministry statement noted that Turkey expects Greece to implement European Court of Human Rights' (ECtHR) decisions without making any distinctions and recognize the muftis.

"We're watching the latest developments regarding Greece's increased pressure on muftis with concern," the Foreign Ministry said, urging Greek authorities to stop the legal oppression.

The bill, which changed how Islamic law is applied in the region, was brought to Greek parliament by the government and supported by a vast majority of Greek parties. Every party voted in favor of the bill except for the far-right Golden Dawn party, who opposed it because they said it failed to spell out what powers will be retained by Islamic courts.

The bill was submitted to Greek parliament after a legal inheritance case was brought to the European Court of Human Rights by a Muslim Turkish woman from Thrace.

Following the passing of the bill, Hüseyin Zeybek, a member of the Muslim Turkish Minority of Western Thrace, told Anadolu Agency (AA) that he welcomed the new legislation but also called for measures to be taken in mufti elections.

"There have been statements from the prime minister on the election of muftis. We are also waiting for that. We want elections to be held at Muslim pious endowments [waqfs]. I believe that the time has come for these wounds to close," Zeybek stressed.

"We would like to remind everyone that the ECtHR found Greece guilty five times in cases regarding the seizure of authorities of the elected muftis in the past. Thus, we are expecting Greek parliament to learn from the past," the statement further added.

The election of muftis by a broad number of Western Thrace Turks was debated during the parliamentary session, although the current bill did not address the issue.

The mufti election issue has been a chronic problem for the Muslim Turkish minority since 1991.

The election of muftis by Muslims in Greece was regulated in the 1913 Treaty of Athens between Greece and the Ottoman Empire and was later included in the country's Act 2345/1920. However, Greece annulled the law in 1991 and started appointing the muftis itself.

The community of Western Thrace Turks is estimated to have between 100,000 and 150,000 members. The Greek government classifies its Turkish population as "Greek Muslims." Greek authorities prohibit the use of the word "Turkish" in organization names, and several minority groups have been closed down for using the term.