Trial for forced marriage of six-year-old girl begins in closed session

The trial for the forced marriage of a six-year-old girl has begun in Istanbul. The court caused a scandal right at the beginning by imposing a gag order and excluding the public at the request of the Ministry of Family Affairs.

The trial for the forced marriage of a six-year-old girl almost 20 years ago has begun in Istanbul. The trial kicked off on Monday in the 2nd Heavy Penal Court in the Anadolu Palace of Justice, attracting a great deal of media attention. The accused are the ex-husband of the victim and her parents. All three are accused of child abuse, while the ex-husband is also accused of sexual assault.

In the run-up to the trial, organised groups as well as representatives of civil society associations and political parties gathered under the umbrella of the platform "Women are Strong Together" (KBG) to denounce the systematic rape of minors and the cover-up of the acts by official institutions. "We are here to create awareness and show solidarity," said Cemile Baklacı, reading out a statement from the KBG. The activist pointed out that the constitution and laws emphasised in a special way the role and human rights of women and girls and the responsibility of the state in this regard. But this is only on paper, she said. "In fact, their situation continues to be particularly precarious because the relevant laws are not implemented. This becomes particularly clear when cases such as the one under discussion today provide insights into the interaction between the state or government and religious sects and communities.”

The scandal was uncovered by journalist Timur Soykan in the left-wing daily newspaper "BirGün". The 24-year-old woman, known publicly only by the initials H.K.G., told the public prosecutor's office at the end of 2020 how her father Yusuf Ziya Gümüşel, an influential member of the Islamist Ismail Ağa sect and founder of the AKP-affiliated Hiranur Foundation, had married her to the then 29-year-old religious Kadir Istekli in 2004. It was Gümüşel himself who arranged the so-called imam marriage of his daughter to the "groom", who worked as a hodja (Koran teacher) in the foundation's own madrasah. The two were married in a civil ceremony after the applicant had reached the age of majority. The ex-husband faces more than 67 years in prison, the parents more than 22 years. The male defendants are in pre-trial detention.

Numerous women's rights activists, politicians and activists followed the hearing in a large hall of the court, with dozens of police officers waiting in the corridor. Lawyers from different chambers in the country, who are co-plaintiffs, made statements and called on the judiciary to prosecute violence against girls and women more consistently and to better protect victims. Regarding the accusation that the abuse of H.K.G. had been systematically covered up, harsh consequences were demanded against those responsible. In 2012, the case was investigated once after a doctor became aware of the abuse and informed the authorities. However, the public prosecutor's office dropped the case because “the girl had given her consent to the marriage and sexual intercourse.” According to "BirGün", the husband and parents used fake medical tests to pretend that the then 14-year-old was already 21 years old. The public prosecutor's office has now also filed a complaint against the authorities investigating the case at the time.

After the indictment was read out, there was a tumultuous atmosphere. At the request of the Turkish Ministry of Family Affairs, the court imposed a news blackout on the trial and granted a public exclusion order. The court order is directed at all media houses and agencies that distribute news that can be accessed or obtained in Turkey. All further hearings will thus be held in closed session - officially to avoid "external influence on the court". Women's organisations are highly critical of the legal ban on media coverage of the trial and protested loudly. Numerous chambers announced that they would take action against both decisions.