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Turkish televangelist Adnan Oktar arrested over sexual abuse, fraud charges

Police are targeting more than 230 of the cultish leader's followers, who are accused of a litany of crimes
Turkish police officers escort televangelist and leader of a sect, Adnan Oktar (C) on July 11, 2018, in Istanbul, as he is arrested on fraud charges. (AFP)

Notorious Muslim televangelist Adnan Oktar, known for leading a cultish group, was arrested by Turkish police in Istanbul on Friday over a number of serious charges, including forming a criminal organisation, sexual abuse of children and sexual assault.

Police said they are conducting a widescale operation led by the financial services department spanning five Turkish provinces. Authorities are looking to detain 235 of Oktar's followers, and police said they had detained around 150 so far.

Oktar was caught as he attempted to run away from the arresting officers, according to the Istanbul chief prosecutor’s office.

While being led away by the police, he told journalists that the charges were a conspiracy by the British deep state.

Oktar was on the police financial crime division’s most-wanted list, security sources told state-run Anadolu news agency. 

An Istanbul court has ordered the confiscation of all 235 suspects's property, and appointed a trustee to take control of their companies, organisations and associations.

Kittens and lions

Oktar is known internationally for the talk show he hosts on his own A9 TV channel. On his flamboyant show Oktar is often seen discussing Islam one minute, then dancing with female guests and audience members the next.

Since first garnering attention contrasting Islamic creationism with Charles Darwin's theory of evolution in universities in the 1980s, Oktar has attracted a cultish following.

He calls his female followers “kittens” and men “lions”. Some of the female followers, many of whom are accused of having plastic surgery to make themselves look alike, also host TV shows on A9, where they discuss social issues.

Oktar is also known for organising parties in hotel rooms and his yacht attended by dozens of women. His following is commonly likened to a sex cult.

He also has a TV show in English, and has written articles in the language for publications overseas under the name of Harun Yahya. His books are filled with conspiracy theories on creationism and according to his website they have been translated into 73 languages.

Oktar's most famous book is Atlas of Creation, which argues that Darwin’s evolution theory is the root of global terrorism.

'There are certain religious references [on his TV show] and he makes belly dancers dance. Is such a thing possible? He has most likely lost his mental balance'

- Ali Erbas, directorate of religious affairs head

Wednesday's run-in with the law is not his first. The 62-year-old has faced indictments and investigations for the last 30 years, and was first put in jail in 1987.

On 19 January, a court slapped a six-month restraining order on Oktar, commanding him to keep away from two of his female followers.

Following the court ruling, the head of Turkey's directorate of religious affairs, Ali Erbas, criticised his TV show.

“There are certain religious references [on his TV show] and he makes belly dancers dance. Is such a thing possible? He has most likely lost his mental balance. He now says he is a freemason but he was punished previously for his remarks about freemasonry," Erbas said.

"He was also jailed for insulting [founder of modern Turkey Mustafa Kamal] Ataturk in the 1980s and 1990s, But now he speaks of himself as the greatest Kemalist. He’s a corrupted person.

“It is not right to watch a TV channel like his,” Erbas added.

'I love Mr Erdogan'

Not to be restricted to decadent parties, theological discussions and Darwin, Oktar and his group have occasionally made forays into politics.

In the 1990s, his group declared its support for Necmettin Erbakan, a conservative politician, former prime minister and ex-head of the Welfare Party, predecessor of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

More recently, Oktar has expressed his support for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“I love Mr Erdogan with heart and soul. He is an honest man. I have expressed my unwavering support for him since the very beginning. And I would never speak or let anyone speak against him. I would defend him with my very own life,” he said on his TV show in January.

According to the Turkish media, after Oktar was detained on Wednesday, he said that he was surprised to be arrested since he supported Erdogan in the June elections. He said he believed the president was not aware of the operation against him.

Other charges Oktar faces are sexual intercourse with minors, kidnapping children, sexual harassment, blackmailing, holding people captive, menace, political and military espionage, fraud by exploiting religious feelings and beliefs, money laundering, violation of privacy, forgery of official documents, opposition to anti-terror law, coercion, slander, alienating citizens from mandatory military service, insulting, false incrimination, perjury, aggravated fraud, opposition to law against smuggling, opposition to tax regulation law, bribery, preventing one’s right to education and civil rights, torture, illegal recording of personal data, and violating the law on the protection of family and women.