Turkish cult leader Adnan Oktar sentenced to over 1,000 years in prison

Adnan Oktar

An Istanbul court has sentenced the controversial cult leader Adnan Oktar, who’s famous around the Muslim world under his pen name Harun Yahya, to 1,075 years in prison.

Oktar was among one of 236 defendants on trial since September 2019 and had faced a diverse array of charges, from espionage to sexual abuse.

The 64-year-old and dozens of his followers were arrested in simultaneous nationwide raids in 2018. An indictment portrays him and others as a criminal gang thriving on blackmail, extortion, money laundering and a string of other crimes.

Among more serious charges were attempting political and military espionage, torture, abduction, illegal wiretapping, fraud, threats, attempted murder and forgery, as well as sexual abuse.

Oktar became well known for giving televised religious sermons surrounded by scantily-clad young women he refers to as his “kittens.”

As “Harun Yahya” he published and distributed scores of books and documentaries on subjects such as creationism and evolution that were widely consumed by Muslim audiences.

Yesterday the court gave Oktar a total of 1,075 years and three months in prison over the charges of founding and leading a criminal organization, political or military espionage, aiding the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), sexual abuse of minors, sexual abuse, deprivation of liberty of a person, torture, disturbance of right to education, recording personal data and making threats.

Prosecutors said the gang he led had been involved in a recruitment scheme since the late 1990s and this involved brainwashing young women. “The organisation used its good-looking members to deceive young girls and women. Those members raped or sexually abused women and were blackmailed first by members pretending that their affairs were recorded on video. They were also brainwashed under the pretext of religious teachings,” prosecutors said in the indictment.

Adnan Oktar made a name for himself in the 1980s when he gained a following among university students, mostly children of the wealthy elite. During that period, he was once arrested for promoting a theocratic revolution. After a stint in a mental institution and penning books under the alias Harun Yahya, Oktar expanded his cult in the 1990s through the Science Research Foundation, which he founded mainly to promote his anti-evolution books.

In the 2000s, he became a household name after he founded A9 TV and sporadically appeared on hourslong talk shows where he delivered his opinions on world views, occasionally breaking into bizarre dance routines with his followers.

According to prosecutors, Oktar was more than a man who spouted rambling lectures about religion and conspiracy theories while surrounded by impeccably dressed young men and women wearing heavy make-up. Former followers and families of young women allegedly brainwashed by the cult came forward during the investigation and recounted threats, suppression and blackmail to keep the followers in the cult and blindly submit to Oktar’s orders.

In his final defense in the hearings, Oktar flatly rejected allegations against him. He denied sexual abuse allegations, claiming he had “close to 1,000 girlfriends” and had an “overflowing of love for women.”

He also denied charges of running a criminal organisation and claimed he simply had a large circle of friends. On his ties to FETÖ and espionage charges, Oktar blamed a conspiracy against him by “certain forces.”

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