Turkish minority journalists in Greece are facing over a year in prison for criticizing clerics they do not recognize, thus exposing hollow promises made by Athens, said one of the journalists sentenced in the case.
"These sentences are a blow to freedom of speech," said Cengiz Omer, the owner of the Millet newspaper, currently facing 15 months in prison for criticizing mufti clerics appointed by the state, whose authority he does not recognize, as local Turks elect their own muftis.
"This decision once again proves the Greek state has no intention of taking any steps on religious freedom for the Muslim Turkish minority in Western Thrace," he told Anadolu Agency(AA), referring to a northeastern Greek region with a large Turkish Muslim minority.
Last June Omer and Millet Editor-in-Chief Feyzullah Hasankahya received 20-month prison sentences for allegedly insulting Greek state-appointed muftis in the cities of Komotini (Gümülcine) and Xanthi (İskeçe), in Western Thrace.
Last Friday, the Thrace Court of Appeals reduced their sentences to 15 months, a ruling made just after Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras paid an official visit to Turkey, pointed out Omer.
Omer said they are being punished for using their right to criticize. He said they would appeal their cases to the Greek Supreme Court.
The Western Thrace region is home to a Muslim Turkish minority of around 150,000, with muftis having jurisdiction over their family and inheritance issues.
The election of muftis by Muslims in Greece was regulated in the 1913 Treaty of Athens between Greece and the Ottoman Empire and was confirmed in 1920. But in 1991, Greece annulled this law and started appointing muftis itself. The majority of Muslim Turks in Western Thrace do not recognize appointed muftis and instead elect their own, who are not recognized by the Greek state.