ANKARA (Reuters)–A Turkish court has ordered imprisonment of an Islamic sect leader for describing a 1999 earthquake as a "divine retribution” for a secularist clampdown on Islamic activism–newspapers said on Wednesday.
The country’s powerful and strictly secularist military spearheads a crackdown on political Islam that brought down an Islamist-led government four years ago and has sent dozens of Islamists to prison for what they say or write.
Turkey–a candidate for European Union membership–must improve a shaky human rights record and ease tight restrictions on freedom of expression if it wants to be a member of the 15-nation bloc.
The Milliyet daily said Mehmet Kutlular–head of the influential Nur (Light) sect and owner of the pro-Islamic Yeni Asya newspaper–was jailed for two years on Tuesday on the order of an Ankara court. Other newspapers carried similar reports.
The court convicted him of “provoking hatred among people” by saying the epicenter of the earthquake was the Golcuk naval base–where generals had met to organize the anti-Islamist campaign.
Kutlular had spoken at a ceremony in an Ankara mosque in the wake of the earthquake–which killed around 18,000 people–to commemorate the death of Nur founder–Said-i Nursi.
As part of the secularist clampdown–Turkey’s main-opposition Islam-based Virtue Party faces possible closure on charges of attempting to overturn the country’s strictly secular order.