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Turkey: Negligence in child abuse case triggers protests

Opposition MPs accuse government of protecting alleged perpetrators in child sexual abuse case for past two years
CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu protests outside the justice ministry with members of his party in Ankara on 12 December 2022 (CHP)

The leader of Turkey's main opposition party staged a protest outside the justice ministry building on Monday to criticise what he called a weak response from the government to a child abuse case that stunned the country last week. 

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the chairman of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), said that the ministry has known about the case for the past two years and has not taken any action to bring the suspects to justice. 

The case of a woman who, in 2020, filed a complaint against her ex-husband and her parents, whom she accuses of forcibly marrying her off when she was six, sparked outcry in Turkey.

The woman's father is an influential leader of a religious order, of which the ex-husband is also a member.

Now 24 and divorced, the woman claims to have been sexually abused since the age of six.

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"Who have you been hiding behind for two years? Who is pressuring you not to make any arrests?" said Kilicdaroglu, addressing the government during a televised statement in the capital Ankara.

Some news reports claimed that in 2020 prosecutors asked for the arrest of the father and the ex-husband, but the court, for unknown reasons, did not grant the request. 

Tensions rose in the Turkish parliament on Saturday, when opposition MPs strongly protested against ministers they accused of inaction over the case. 

Opposition lawmakers, some holding protest placards, chanted "the child spoke, you kept silent, but we will not be silent" and "resign", as Family Minister Derya Yanik addressed the budget debates in the Turkish assembly.

Many MPs also banged on their benches and booed the minister. When Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu spoke, elected officials threw up their placards in protest. 

Timur Soykan, the Turkish journalist who exposed the case, has been the target of a social media campaign by conservative groups, accusing him of being "insulting to Islam", since he published excerpts from the woman's deposition on 3 December.

The Turkish opposition accuses the conservative government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan of leniency towards religious orders and of not taking the necessary measures to protect minors entrusted to these groups by their parents.

“Child sexual abuse and violence against women is a subject that goes beyond politics. We cannot tolerate that victims are used for political purposes,” said Yanik.

Yanik also added that the family ministry itself was among the plaintiffs and the government has been doing everything possible under law to bring the suspects to justice. 

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