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Infamous Turkish Rape Case Still Fuels Outrage 8 Years Later

  • Dorian Jones

Human-rights groups are expressing outrage about controversial decisions by Turkey's judiciary in a few high-profile rape cases. One involves a Turkish appeals court reducing the prison sentences of more than 20 men convicted of having sex with a 12-year-old girl. The case is at the European Court of Human Rights and has become the focal point of growing anger.

The case of the girl, legally known only as NC, continues to cause outrage and anger in Turkey.

Last November, hundreds of people protested in Istanbul, when Turkey's Court of Appeal ruled that the then 12-year-old child consented to being raped by more than a dozen men and sentenced most to only one or two years in jail.

For human-rights lawyer Eren Keskin, it was the latest setback in her eight-year struggle for justice for NC.

Keskin is a 20-year veteran of such struggles and confronting the darkest side of Turkish society, but she said in her long experience this case found new depths.

From the beginning this was terrible court case, she said, involving a 12-year-old girl who was an orphan. She was abducted and held for months, where she was rented out to be raped by more than a dozen men, which included local state officials and an officer in the army. The lawyer said all of these men are supposed to protect the people.

Keskin said the case exposes the worst aspects and deficiencies of the Turkish justice system in how it treats female victims of sexual crimes, especially minors. She said she was appalled at how NC was treated through years of legal hearings.

The judges humiliated her, demanding she explain in detail what was done to her in front of the defendants. Keskin said there was no support for her in the court, no protection, she was the accused, it was very hard for her.

Keskin said through it all, NC was receiving psychiatric help, but was brought back to the trauma with each court appearance and after every hearing she was more defeated.

Several Turkish ministers have strongly criticized the judiciary over the handling of the NC case. Turkish Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin said the NC crime occurred before new legislation that proscribes far harsher penalties.

Pinar Ilkaracan of Women for Women Human Rights questioned the government's commitment, saying only pressure from society forced it to amend legislation reducing penalties for rapists if they married their victim.

"This article was in the old penal code and it was one of the articles which drew the most reaction from the public. That the government wanted to keep the article, but finally it was canceled," said Ilkaracan. "However, the government has changed the composition, and members of the higher judges and prosecutors, and now in the new council there are judges and prosecutors who [are] much more conservative. And now it seems to be a backlash to the changes in the penal code."

Keskin said the legal reforms are an important improvement, but her experience in handling the NC case reveals the need for changes in judiciary mentality.

She said the case highlights that Turkish law is very male orientated and feudal in its mentality. She added that there have been many positive changes to the law, but in its application and implementation there have been only small steps.

NC is now a fully grown woman, and with the support of Keskin is planning to attend university. But her quest for justice has ended in Turkey and she is seeking redress in the European Court of Human Rights, where Keskin hopes she finally will find justice.

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