Austrian top court backs expulsion of Turkish government-paid imams

22.03.2019

Austria's policy of expelling Muslim preachers who are financed by Turkey is not discriminatory, the country's top court has ruled in a dispute that is part of the divisions between Vienna and Ankara.

Two Turkish imams had appealed to the Constitutional Court after their visas were revoked under the Islam Law that was passed by the previous centrist coalition and has been implemented by the current right-wing government.

The law bans foreign entities from funding Muslim organisations, such as the Turkish Islamic Union (ATIP), which has some 60 imams who work as Turkish public servants in Austria.

"Protecting the autonomy and independence of accredited Churches and religions is in the public interest," the top court said on Thursday, summing up its recent verdict.

ATIB's preachers are still funded by the Turkish government, rather than by Muslims in Austria. Austria's biggest Muslim umbrella organisation, the Islamic Faith Community, said on Thursday that it might appeal to the Court of Justice of the European Union, as a case of restriction of religious freedom.

The expulsions could bring Austrian mosques under pressure if all 60 Turkish imams end up being expelled, a spokesman of the Islamic Faith Community told journalists.

Austria's conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz welcomed the ruling. "Thank God, it gives us the possibility to fight against politicised Islam and against influences from Turkey and other countries," he said.

Kurz is a sharp critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and has lobbied for stopping Turkey's EU accession talks.    (dpa)

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