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Turkey arrests 7 for listening to religious sermons on X

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A Turkish court arrested six women and one man who had been detained for listening to religious sermons on the X platform, streamed by foreign-based individuals accused by Turkey of being members of a faith-based group outlawed by Ankara, the Kronos news website reported.

Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and the Malatya Police Department’s Organized Crime Division conducted an operation targeting individuals participating in live audio discussions on X, where they were discussing the texts of Risale-i Nur, a Quranic exegesis written by the late Islamic scholar Said Nursi, the teachings of whom later helped inspire the faith-based Gülen movement.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations in 2013, which implicated then-prime minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following an abortive putsch on July 15, 2016, that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

According to a report by journalist Sevinç Özarslan of Kronos, the authorities detained nine people, including a leukemia patient, during home raids in various cities on Tuesday.

MİT and the police tracked the online activities of the participants for months before the arrests. Seven individuals, six of whom are women, were arrested. Two others were released under judicial supervision.

Some of the detained women live abroad and were visiting Turkey for vacation. The interrogation included questions about their reasons for joining the discussion rooms, their roles within the groups and why they commented on Risale-i Nur texts.

While in custody, the women were reportedly forced to pray without their headscarves, which were confiscated. An attorney described how his client was brought to him without her headscarf and requested a Quran, a prayer book and other religious texts.

The pro-government media portrayed the operation as international, involving six countries and multiple Turkish cities. Outlets like the pro-government Star daily and Oda TV used images of men to report the arrests, allegedly to avoid backlash from conservative supporters of Erdoğan upon seeing images of women with headscarves.

The detained women were accused of engaging in activities to support Gülen movement and recruit new members for the group.

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