Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag on Thursday slammed Greece over the recent conviction of two Muslim clerics.
The elected mufti of the city of Xanthi (Iskece) in northern Greece, Ahmet Mete and the imam of the nearby village of Glafki (Gokcepinar), Erkan Azizoglu were each sentenced to seven months in prison by a court in Thessaloniki on Monday for disturbing a religious ceremony and usurping authority.
Mete and Azizoglu were convicted over an incident at the funeral ceremony of a conscript soldier last year, who was a member of the Muslim Turkish minority and lost his life in a swimming accident while on duty.
Mete took over the prayer service from the state-appointed mufti of Xanthi.
Speaking at an event in Istanbul, Bekir Bozdag slammed Greece for not letting a Muslim be buried in accordance with his religious beliefs, and by a mufti elected by the local community instead of one appointed by the state.
He said this was against the Lausanne Treaty. "Where is freedom of religion and conscience?" he asked.
Bozdag said the family of the dead soldier wanted Mete to head the funeral prayer.
"They [Greek authorities] breached the Lausanne Treaty, and ignored the elected mufti and appointed their own. The religion preached by that [appointed] mufti is the religion told by the Greek government, not the religion of Quran and Prophet [Mohammad]," he said.
The two clerics' prison sentences have been suspended, and they could be jailed if they commit another crime in three years.
Mete told Anadolu Agency that the conviction was a "medal of honor" for them.
"We will continue our struggle whatever the outcome may be. We will go to higher courts if necessary," he said.
A Turkish-origin Greek lawmaker from the Democratic Alignment party, Ilhan Ahmet called Mete's conviction "illegal".
"I don't understand what crime Mete was convicted of. The Greek state must respect the minority's preferences regarding the chronic mufti issue," Ahmet said.
Ibrahim Serif, who is the elected mufti of Komotini (Gumulcine) city and head of the Western Thrace Turkish Minority Advisory Board, criticized Greek authorities' ongoing negative attitude in this regard.
"The locals openly say that they do not want the appointed muftis. We expect Greece to recognize the religious leaders elected by the Muslim Turkish minority," he said.
Serif, like Mete, was also convicted previously for usurping authority. He later appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, which made a decision in his favor and found Greece guilty.
The 1923 Lausanne Treaty guarantees the religious freedoms of the Muslim minority in Greece.
The election of muftis by the Muslims in Greece was included in the 1913 Treaty of Athens between Greece and the Ottoman Empire and was included in Greek Act 2345/1920. However, Greece annulled this law in 1990 and started appointing the muftis itself.
The majority of Muslim Turks in Komotini (Gumulcine) and Xanthi cities do not recognize the appointed muftis and elect their own instead, who are not recognized by the Greek state.
Greece's Western Thrace region is home to around 145,000 Muslim Turks.
*Mehmet Hatipoglu contributed to this story from Komotini, Greece.
Source: Anadolu Agency