AKP only! Imam forces opposition campaigners out of town

A Turkish imam has forced an opposition party’s electoral campaigners for out of Çitli, the village he is stationed at in the Black Sea province of Çorum, online news platform Artı Gerçek reported on Monday.

When campaigners from the nationalist Good Party arrived at the village to hand out fliers for their local candidate in the upcoming Jun. 24 parliamentary election, they were reportedly greeted by an angry imam determined to shut down any opposition canvassing.

The Good Party campaigners had been handing out fliers in village mosque’s courtyard when Mustafa Çıtak, the local imam, raced out to warn them “only (ruling Justice and Development Party) AKP supporters are allowed to enter here.”

Çıtak gave the villagers a dressing down, demanding that they dispose of the fliers they had received from the campaigners, to which they reportedly complied.

A campaigner reminded the imam he was bound by article 657 of the Turkish constitution, according to which civil servants who engage in political activity may lose their jobs.

“657 doesn’t apply to me. We stand with the Reis,” Çıtak is quoted saying, referring to a Turkish term meaning chief that is a commonly used epithet for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The imam then demanded the campaigners leave the town, and continued to shout at them while following them as they left, according to quotes from the campaigners.

Imams in Turkey are employed by the state, and thus required by law to maintain a neutral political stance. One cleric was suspended in May for criticising the presidential system while preaching to his congregation, an act deemed to have been a political sermon.

Religious officials, however, have reportedly been pressed into activities in favour of the ruling party; one high-ranking cleric reportedly demanded that imams in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır attend an AKP rally.