AUSTRIA: Government shuts seven mosques, prepares to expel 40 Turkey-funded imams
Vienna/Austria, 11.06.2018 (HRWF/FOREF Europe) – On Friday, June 8, the government of Austria ordered the closing of seven mosques and the termination of the residence permits of 40 Turkish imams. “Parallel societies, political Islam or radical tendencies have no place in our country,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the conservative people’s party (ÖVP) explained at a news conference announcing the move last Friday. Human Rights Without Frontiers and the Forum for Religious Freedom – Europe, both of which have been sharply critical of political Islam as a totalitarian political movement, said that subjecting Islamic communities to special regulations contradicts human rights and Rule of Law principles, and is an obstacle to the development of moderate and peaceful Islamic communities in Europe that uphold a separation of church and state.
The measure coincides with the run-up to the Turkish presidential election on June 24. Turks living in Austria and in other countries already have begun casting absentee ballots. Last May, 10.000 expat Turks travelled to Sarajevo to attend an election campaign event in Bosnia-Herzegovina’s capital Sarajevo in support of the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as Germany, Austria and the Netherlands had prohibited election campaigns of Turkish politicians in their countries. The event was hosted by the Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD), an organization that is considered the foreign branch of Erdoğan’s party AKP. Around half of the supporters came from Germany and about 2.000 from Austria. In his Sarajevo talk, the Turkish president criticized the European countries that banned his campaigns as anti-democratic and asked his supporters to “demonstrate the strength of European Turks to the whole world”, the Austrian newspaper Die Presse reported.
Against this backdrop, the Austrian government’s plan to expel imams supported by Turkey and to crack down on mosques run by controversial organizations is widely understood as a reaction against the promotion of political Islam in Austria. Government officials, however, have denied any connection of their measure to the upcoming Turkish presidential election. The decision has been justified by claiming that two provisions of the amended “Islam Law” (Islamgesetz) of 2015 have been breached: