ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish authorities jailed a Turkish televangelist and more than 150 of his followers pending trial on Thursday, police said, on charges including sexual abuse of children, blackmail and forming a criminal gang.
Adnan Oktar, an Islamic preacher and a prolific writer on creationism, ran his own television channel where he hosted talk shows on religious values that featured a bevy of heavily made-up women in tight clothing, dubbed “kittens”.
He was sometimes shown dancing with the women and singing with young men, his “lions”.
The police financial crimes unit detained 187 people last week in raids across five provinces targeting Oktar and his followers. Oktar denied the charges against him, saying he lived by the law and was not a gang leader, according to his testimony to police obtained by Anadolu.
He was captured in his car, moments after having fled his villa in Cengelkoy on the Asian side of Istanbul, local media has reported.
The Istanbul prosecutor’s office has labeled Oktar’s group a criminal gang and said it aimed to commit crimes including sexual abuse of children, sexual assault, money laundering, depriving people of their freedom, fraud, bribery and torture, state-run Anadolu said.
The preacher began forming groups of followers in the late 1970s and has frequently run afoul of Turkish authorities. He has faced a number of trials, including on previous charges of forming a criminal gang, but was acquitted.
The broadcasting regulator suspended one of his programs in February, saying its blend of theological discussion and dancing violated gender equality and women’s rights.
Oktar, who argues that Darwin’s theory of evolution is the root of global terrorism, has previously accused British intelligence of requesting the Turkish authorities to take action against him.
According to his website, Oktar has written more than 300 books, translated into 73 languages. Under his pen-name Harun Yahya, he gave secularist France a scare in 2007 by mass-mailing thousands of free copies of his “Atlas of Creation” to schools and libraries across the country.
The Education Ministry ordered school headmasters to seize and remove copies of the glossy book, which argues that all living things were created by God exactly as they are formed today.
Writing by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by David Dolan and Angus MacSwan