Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu Saturday urged Greece to cease its interventionist practices and policies that pressure Muslim religious leaders elected by the Turkish minority in Western Thrace.
Çavuşoğlu released the statement on Twitter after Ibrahim Şerif, the chairperson of the Western Thrace Turkish Minority Advisory Board and elected mufti of Gümülcine (Komotini), shared on Twitter that he is being put on trial for alleged "usurpation of office" over a religious ceremony he attended five years ago.
Decrying the recent decision by the Greek court, Çavuşoğlu said: "We stand by our kin in the protection of their rights arising from the Treaty of Lausanne and religious freedoms."
In a recent visit to Western Thrace, Çavuşoğlu said that “the work of the Muftis contributes greatly to the preservation and strengthening of the unity and solidarity of the Turkish minority."
As Çavuşoğlu noted during his joint press conference with his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias in April, Greece fails to recognize Turkish Muslims as Turkish Muslims.
Referring to the Turkish minority in Western Thrace, Çavuşoğlu stressed: "If they say they are Turkish, they are Turkish. You have to accept it ... Turkey has implemented many inclusive practices with regard to its minorities. Such a positive approach is what we expect from Greece concerning its Turkish Muslim minority in Western Thrace."
Turkey in June also condemned a recent Greek court decision to sentence the elected mufti of Iskeçe (Xanthi) in Greece’s Western Thrace to 15 months in prison, describing the decision as "another manifestation of the legal pressure and intimidation policies by Greece against the Western Thrace Turkish Minority's elected Muftis by their own will."
Ahmet Mete was sentenced to 15 months in prison by a Greek court, in another apparent attempt to suppress the country’s ethnic Turkish minority.
A criminal court in Thessaloniki sentenced Mete to time in prison, with a three-year deferment of the sentence, over allegedly "disrupting public order by sowing public discord."
Turkey expressed hope for the "unfair decision" to be corrected in the later stages of the legal process.
"We invite Greece once again to put an end to its oppressive practices that violate the fundamental rights and freedoms of the Western Thrace Turkish Minority and its elected Muftis," it added.
Dating back centuries, a population of 150,000 Muslim Turks live mainly in the Komotini and Xanthi areas in Greece's Western Thrace region.
The election of muftis, or Islamic clerics, by Muslims in Greece is regulated by the 1913 Treaty of Athens, a Greek-Ottoman Empire pact that was implemented by Athens in 1920.
But in 1991, in violation of international law, Greece annulled its law regarding the 1913 treaty and unlawfully started to appoint muftis.
The muftis appointed by the Greek state have since usurped local Muslims' rights of jurisdiction on family and inheritance matters.
Most Muslim Turks in Western Thrace do not recognize muftis appointed by the Greek state and instead rightfully elect their own muftis.
However, since 1991, the Greek state has refused to recognize the elected muftis, and authorities have even put clerics on trial.
Turkey has long decried Greek violations of the rights of its Muslim and Turkish minority, from the closing down of mosques and letting historic mosques fall into disrepair to refusing to allow local groups to use "Turkish" in their name.
These measures violate the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, as well as European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) verdicts, making Greece a state that flouts the law, say Turkish officials.
Turkey has frequently urged Greece to comply with the ECtHR decisions upholding the freedoms of the local Turkish minority.
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