Turkey’s broadcasting watchdog, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), has imposed fines on three TV stations critical of the the government for reporting on the alleged sexual abuse of children by the instructor of a Quran course in the eastern province of Erzurum, the Birgün daily reported on Wednesday.
RTÜK unanimously decided to impose a fine on Halk TV, KRT and TELE 1 after Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) submitted a complaint to the council about the language used in the reports on sexual abuse of children in Erzurum, saying it was “disturbing” and they were “hurt” by it, Birgün said.
İlhan Taşçı, a member of RTÜK from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), commented on the council’s unanimous decision, saying that as a citizen, he would expect the Diyanet to be disturbed by the sexual abuse of little children, not by the language used in the news reports covering such incidents.
“When the matter at hand is [about] children [and] accusations of sexual abuse, it’s really sad that such a decision was made [by RTÜK] after the Diyanet complained about the language … [used in] the news. … I leave it to the public’s discretion whether it’s the Diyanet who is hurt in this case or the hearts and souls of those little children,” Taşçı said.
According to local media reports in December 2021, seven children were allegedly sexually abused by the instructor — identified in the reports only by the initials N.K. — at the Hacı Bahattin Evgi Quran Course in Erzurum, which is a boarding school affiliated with the Diyanet.
Although the Erzurum Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation into N.K. and a janitor who is accused of torturing the children physically, all the defendants were released pending trial, Turkish media reports said.
Turkey ratified the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, also known as the Lanzarote Convention, in 2011. According to the convention Turkey is not only responsible for prosecuting child abusers but also for preventing child abuse.
Despite the convention, children are the victims of 46 percent of all sexual assault cases in Turkey. Moreover, Turkey ranks third in sexual abuse cases worldwide. According to Ministry of Justice data, sexual misconduct against children increased 29 percent between 2012 and 2019.
A report released on the occasion of Universal Children’s Day by human rights defender and a main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker Sezgin Tanrıkulu revealed in November that at least 160 children were subjected to sexual abuse in Turkey in the first 10 months of 2021.
An amendment to the Code on Criminal Procedure which stipulates that instead of taking victim testimony, tangible evidence will be required in child abuse cases was approved by the Turkish Parliament in July 2021 with the votes of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its ally the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
Legal experts have criticized the amendment, saying it will make it more difficult for child abusers to be prosecuted because witness testimony or other forms of tangible evidence such as DNA samples will be necessary for a conviction and it would be exceedingly difficult to collect tangible evidence in abuse cases.
RTÜK is accused of contributing to increasing censorship in the country by imposing punitive and disproportionate sanctions on independent television and radio stations critical of the Turkish government.
According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), 85 percent of the national media in Turkey is owned by pro-government businessmen and toe the official line.