ATHENS (AP) — Lawmakers in Greece are set to limit the powers of Islamic courts operating in a border region that is home to a 100,000-strong Muslim minority.
Backed by parliament’s largest political parties, the draft law is set to be voted on later Tuesday. The proposal 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.
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. Minority areas were visited last month by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
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.
In parliament Tuesday, Constantine Gavroglou, minister of education and religious affairs, praised opposition party support for the bill.
“This is not just a technical adjustment, it’s a very important day for parliament … because of the broad support that is key when addressing issues of democracy and people’s rights,” he told lawmakers.
“(Current rules) stem from policies that were hostile toward the minority and sought to create second class citizens.”
The extreme right Golden Dawn party opposed the bill, arguing that it failed to adequately outline what powers would be retained by Islamic courts, and did not address the issue of locally-elected clerics who operate in an unofficial but influential capacity.
PM Tsipras: Draft bill on Sharia law “a historic step for Greece”
The draft bill on Sharia law is a historic step for Greece, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said in a tweet on his official page.
?The government is taking a historic step today, bringing to Parliament the bill on Sharia law that expands the equality and equity enjoyed by all Greeks without exception,? Tsipras said.
The amendment relates to family law cases in the Muslim minority in northern Greece and is included in the draft omnibus bill expected to be tabled in Parliament by Tuesday night. It gives precedence to a Greek court of law if there is no agreement among parties to go to a local Islamic law official.
?As a member of the European Union, our country is voluntarily committed to specific treaties, such as the European Convention on Human Rights,? Tsipras noted.
?With this regulation, the government corrects injustices made in the past at the expense of members of the Muslim community of Thrace (such as) exempting them from the state of legal guarantees and civil liberties enjoyed by all Greek citizens; it respects however the unique features of the minority,? the prime minister said.
He added, ?We ought to proceed with steady steps towards the reforms that will upgrade the rights and quality of life of the Muslim minority of Thrace, by persisting in dialogue and facing issues with cool-headedness and awareness of their seriousness.”
Sources: AP, ANA