Akyol given VIP send-off after ex-Turkish president’s intervention

Mustafa-Akyol_videoKUALA LUMPUR: Prominent writer Mustafa Akyol’s departure from Malaysia followed interventions and concerns shown by a who’s who of personalities representing the top echelons in Turkey and Malaysia, a far cry from the treatment he received at the hands of Islamic authorities, it has emerged.

Among the names mentioned to FMT include former Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, who is believed to have contacted important personalities in Malaysia after Akyol’s arrest at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) on Monday.

Akyol himself confirmed this on Twitter yesterday, hours after arriving in Boston, US, where he is a senior visiting fellow at the Denver University.

“I am deeply grateful to former President of Turkey Abdullah Gül for his key role in my release from arrest in Malaysia,” said the New York Times columnist, who was in Malaysia last week on a lecture tour organised by the Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF).

Gul, a former foreign minister who rose to become the 11th president of Turkey, was best known for his role in demilitarising the country’s politics. He is a founding member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), but has been careful not to support his successor Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose government launched a major crackdown on critics after a failed coup last year.

Following his release, news about Akyol’s ordeal in Malaysia quickly reached Turkish social media users, and had been trending for six hours.

“I hope the ‘trending’ incident may help initiate some national debate in Malaysia on the ‘religion enforcement police’,” said Akyol, who has frequently spoken out for free speech in Muslim countries.

Among those present to see Akyol off at KLIA on Tuesday night were Redzuan Kushairi, a member of the Perak Royal Council who is also part of G25, the vocal group of prominent moderate Malays, as well as several others who prefer not to be named.

They were joined by former deputy higher education minister Saifuddin Abdullah and former treasury secretary-general, Mohd Sheriff Kassim.

According to IRF director Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa, Akyol used a special departure hall normally reserved for VIP passengers.

Speaking to FMT before his flight, Akyol said it was his first experience being detained.

“I never got arrested before for anything, much less for giving a few talks. This was not something I could imagine. I could imagine this happening in Saudi Arabia maybe, but I thought Malaysia was a more open society,” he said.

Akyol is a strong advocate of free speech in Muslim countries, and has frequently criticised both the Islamists and secularists in his home country.

His presence this time, his fifth trip to Malaysia, drew protests from some conservative Muslim groups, as well as Islamic authorities who accused him of breaching a law requiring those speaking on Islam to have official credentials.

The Federal Territory Islamic Department had summoned Akyol for questioning over a charge of “teaching Islam without credentials”, before pressuring organisers of a forum featuring him to call it off.

It said Akyol was arrested based on a “complaint from the public” over a speech he made at a roundtable discussion titled “Does freedom of conscience open the floodgate to apostasy?” at the Royal Selangor Golf Club in Kuala Lumpur.

Jawi has also summoned Farouk for questioning, on a charge of “abetting” Akyol.