Turkey flays Austria over imam expulsions, closure of mosques

Exterior view taken on June 8, 2018 shows the plaque of the "Nizam-i Alem" mosque in Vienna that is part of seven mosques that the Austrian government announced they would shut down. (AFP)
Updated 09 June 2018
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Turkey flays Austria over imam expulsions, closure of mosques

  • Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kickl said that 150 people including the imams and their families risked losing their right to residence
  • The Austrian government’s ideologically charged practices are in violation of universal legal principles

ANKARA: Turkey’s presidential spokesman on Friday lambasted Austria’s decision to expel up to 60 Turkish-funded imams and shut seven mosques as an “anti-Islam” and “racist” move.
“Austria’s decision to close down seven mosques and deport imams with a lame excuse is a reflection of the anti-Islam, racist and discriminatory populist wave in this country,” Ibrahim Kalin said after Vienna announced the move in a crackdown on “political Islam.”
“It is an attempt to target Muslim communities for the sake of scoring cheap political points,” Kalin said on Twitter.
Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kickl said that 150 people including the imams and their families risked losing their right to residence.
The clampdown comes after Austria’s religious affairs authority investigated images published in April of children in a Turkish-backed mosque playing dead and reenacting the World War I battle of Gallipoli.
“Parallel societies, political Islam and radicalization have no place in our country,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the ruling center-right People’s Party said.
Kalin, spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, suggested the decision was part of efforts to “normalize Islamophobia and racism,” which he said must be rejected.
“The Austrian government’s ideologically charged practices are in violation of universal legal principles, social integration policies, minority rights and the ethics of coexistence,” Kalin said.
During the Turkish referendum campaign last year on expanding the president’s powers, tensions were high between Vienna and Ankara after Austria said it would not allow campaign-related events.
Relations were also strained by Kurz’s staunch opposition to Turkey’s bid to join the European Union and the government’s program which pledged Vienna would not agree to Ankara joining the bloc.


Tunisia’s ‘truth commission’ winds up four-year mission

Updated 42 min 7 sec ago
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Tunisia’s ‘truth commission’ winds up four-year mission

  • The commission, whose mandate was extended in the spring until the end of 2018
  • At the end of November, the commission drew up criteria for compensation that exclude those with post-2011 government

TUNIS: After four years working “under fire” and interviewing almost 50,000 witnesses, Tunisia’s commission tasked with serving justice to victims of half a century of dictatorship is poised to submit its recommendations.

Set up in 2014 following the 2011 revolution and in the wake of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s fall, the Truth and Dignity Institute has a mission to “reveal the truth about the human rights violations” in Tunisia between 1955 and 2013.

In its final act, the commission will submit its recommendations to Tunisia’s leadership.

The first version is to be delivered at a public event on Friday and Saturday, before the full report is submitted by Dec. 31.

The government, with the assistance of a parliamentary follow-up committee, will have one year to draw up an action plan based on the recommendations.

The commission’s task was to collect and disseminate testimonies, send some of those suspected of rape, murder, torture or corruption to specialised courts, and recommend measures to prevent any recurrence.

Operating in the only Arab Spring country which has kept to a democratic path since the 2011 revolt, its mandate has also been to seek national reconciliation through a revival of the North African state’s collective memory.

The commission, whose mandate was extended in the spring until the end of 2018, has been studying more than 60,000 complaints and has this year sent dozens of cases to the courts.

Over the past four years, the panel has heard harrowing testimony from victims of torture in jail, some of which has been aired to large television audiences.

“From the very start we’ve worked under fire and come up against difficulties, due to the absence of political will,” commission official Khaled Krichi told AFP.

He said demands for the handover of judicial cases involving corruption had been rejected, as well as for archive materials from the Interior Ministry on prisoners who had suffered torture.

A contested amnesty law passed in 2017 cleared some officials suspected of administrative corruption.

The commission also faced political resistance with the return of former regime leaders to power, internal disputes as well as the lack of cooperation by state institutions.

Thirteen specialized courts have been set up and started work at the end of May on dozens of cases submitted by the commission.

Twenty trials are underway, mostly of victims of the 2011 revolution and of radical and leftist opposition figures tortured under the rule of Ben Ali or his predecessor Habib Bourguiba.

Krichi said settlements have been reached in 10 cases of financial corruption involving former regime figures, including that of Slim Chiboub, a son-in-law of Ben Ali, who has agreed to pay back 307 million dinars ($113 million).

The state, however, faced with accusations of torture and sexual violence, has rejected 1,000 demands for “reconciliation” with the victims. A row has also broken out over compensation cases, with members of Parliament claiming the costs would bankrupt the state and that many claims were designed to benefit supporters of extremist movement Ennahdha.

At the end of November, the commission drew up criteria for compensation that exclude those with post-2011 government or parliamentary posts.

Around 25,000 people are eligible to compensation from the Al-Karama (Dignity) Fund established in 2014, according to Krichi.

It is being financed by donations, a percentage of the funds recovered through settlements and a one-time government grant of 10 million dinars ($3.7 million).