Turkey formally arrests televangelist, scores of followers
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish authorities on Thursday formally arrested a controversial Islamic televangelist and cult leader on charges that include forming a criminal gang, blackmail and sexual abuse of minors, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
At least 168 of Adnan Oktar’s followers were also formally arrested on the same charges and taken to separate prisons in Istanbul pending trial.
Oktar and his followers were rounded up last week in raids in Istanbul and other cities after prosecutors issued detention warrants for 234 people linked to his group. Dozens of weapons and ammunition, a bullet proof vest and an armored vehicle were seized during the search.
Anadolu said Oktar rejected all accusations during his questioning, insisted that he was the victim of a plot hatched by plaintiffs and requested that he be released.
Elvan Kocak, a Turk living in Austria, had filed a lawsuit against Oktar earlier this year, accusing him of kidnapping his two daughters, after he saw them on one of the televangelist’s broadcasts.
Ceylan Ozgul, a woman who appeared on Oktar’s shows, told Anadolu last week that she escaped the network in 2017 after spending a decade inside. She maintained that girls aged between 10 and 17 were abused by the group.
In February, Turkey’s media watchdog imposed fines on Oktar’s TV channel and suspended broadcasts of shows where the televangelist held Islamic theological discussions surrounded by glamorous women known as “kittens.”
Oktar — who uses the pen name Harun Yahya — has authored numerous books promoting creationism against Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Last week, a court ordered that the property of all suspects be seized and government trustees were appointed to companies, foundations and associations, Anadolu reported.