Turkey targeting Dutch-Turks through Diyanet, says Netherlands committee

Turkey's Directorate of Religious Affairs, the Diyanet, is trying to exert its influence over Dutch-Turks - including through fear, intimidation, and threats - according to a new report released by a parliamentary committee in the Netherlands.

The "Parliamentary Inquiry Committee on Unwanted Influence from Unfree Countries" published its long-awaited report on Thursday on foreign interference in Dutch domestic affairs. Turkey is considered to be an "unfree" country by the committee.

Turkey’s official policy "is aimed at perpetuating their vision of Islam in the Netherlands through the Diyanet mosques," the committee wrote.

The Diyanet has a subsidiary organisation in the Netherlands called the Islamic Foundation Netherlands (ISN). In the Netherlands, 148 mosques - about a third of the country's total mosques - are connected to the Diyanet through the ISN.

Turkey maintains a political grip on Dutch-Turks through the Diyanet, which sends its imams to the Netherlands and pays them to preach in ISN mosques, the committee concluded.

"Dutch people with a Turkish background, who belong to a minority in Turkey - such as Kurds, Alevis or Gülen sympathisers - may have to deal with fear, intimidation and threats," the committee said. "These witnesses have stated that the Diyanet / ISN plays a role in fuelling fear, intimidation and even threats within Turkish-Dutch communities."

The report is very critical about the Diyanet’s role in a campaign against Netherlands-based members of the Gülen movement, which Ankara blames for orchestrating the failed coup in July 2016.

Based on an extensive investigative feature article about the scope of Diyanet in the Netherlands published in the Dutch magazine de Kanttekening, the committee stated:

"For example, there were Diyanet mosques where Gülen sympathisers were banned, Diyanet imams in the Netherlands called on Twitter to report Gülen sympathisers to the government and the then chairman of ISN passed a list of names of Gülen sympathisers to Diyanet in Turkey. A 2016 hearing in Turkish Parliament shows that in 38 countries, including the Netherlands, Diyanet employees have participated in the gathering of intelligence. "

However, it is still unclear how much money is coming from the Diyanet, according to the committee. The committee states that this fact applies to all money flows with which Islamic countries exert "unwanted influence". The report suggests mandatory publication of the financial statements and a total ban on foreign financing as means of promoting transparency.

In addition to the Diyanet, Salafists, financed from the Gulf States, and the Muslim Brotherhood also exert influence on Dutch mosques and Islamic believers, the committee further concluded.

Shortly after the parliamentary hearings in February, the Dutch cabinet stated it wanted a total ban on foreign financing from "unfree countries". Since this is legally a complex issue, according to experts, no bills have yet been made in the Lower House.