ATHENS – Greece’s Foreign Ministry has rejected Turkish criticism over legislation that would curtail the influence of Islamic Sharia Law courts that have been allowed to operate in the region of Thrace in northeastern Greece, which houses 100,000 Greek Muslims.
In a statement, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said it was concerned over the legislation because Greek authorities had not consulted with the Islamic jurists, known as muftis.
“The legislation regarding the Muslim minority in Thrace is an internal affair of Greece,” the Foreign Ministry in Athens said in a statement, adding that “outside interventions are unacceptable,” and that Turkey should concentrate on its own problems with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan having purged the military and civil service after a failed 2016 coup against him.
Erdogan visited Thrace during a two-day trip to Athens in December and said the Greek government should give more power to Muslims, including the right to elect their own mfti instead of having him being appointed by the state.
The law limiting Sharia law comes at a time of renewed tension after Erdogan’s meeting with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras tried to ease it, as the Turkish leader has stepped up calls for eight Turkish soldiers who fled the coup attempt to be returned.
Greece’s highest court ruled they can’t be extradited because they wouldn’t get a fair trial and face torture or worse but Tsipras has asked for asylum to be yanked for one of the soldiers who received it as critics said he’s paving the way for them to be sent back to appease Erdogan, who had threatened to unleash more refugees and migrants on Greek islands unless he gets his way in everything.
The legislation aims to scrap rules dating back more than 90 years ago and which refer many civil cases involving members of the Muslim community to Sharia law courts. The new legislation will give Greek courts priority in all cases. It wasn’t reported why Sharia law was allowed to operate as a separate legal system in the country.
The changes — considered long overdue by many Greek legal experts — follow a complaint to the Council of Europe’s Court of Human Rights over an inheritance dispute by a Muslim woman who lives in the northeastern Greek city of Komotini.
Legislation concerning minority rights was based on international treaties following wars in the aftermath of the Ottoman Empire’s collapse. The Muslim minority in Greece is largely Turkish speaking.
Greek governments in the past have been reluctant to amend minority rights, as many disputes between Greece and Turkey remain unresolved.
Currently, Islamic court hearings are presided over by a single official, a state-appointed Muslim cleric.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)