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Turkish garrison commander arrested for alleged sexual assault of 15 soldiers

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A Turkish court has arrested a garrison commander in northwestern Turkey for allegedly sexually assaulting 15 military conscripts, the Mezopotamya news agency reported on Monday.

Sakarya Garrison Commander Staff Col. Fahri Can Çağlar was arrested on Oct. 7 on charges of sexually assaulting 15 soldiers at the Sakarya Officers Club as part of an investigation launched by the Sakarya Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, Mezopotamya said.

Although a soldier initially reported to the Sakarya Police on March 27 that he was sexually assaulted by Çağlar, he then decided not to go to the prosecutor’s office when he was called to testify about the incident since he was afraid of failing to prove his claim.

According to Mezopotamya, three other soldiers told their commander on Sept. 30 that they were sexually assaulted by Çağlar and then filed a criminal complaint with the prosecutor. The prosecutor’s office called other soldiers employed at the officers club to testify about the allegations, as a result of which they found that the garrison commander had sexually assaulted 15 soldiers in total.

Çağlar, who was initially detained, was arrested by a court on Oct. 7 and sent to Sakarya Prison pending trial.

Citing statements by the victims’ families, who did not disclose their names out of safety concerns, Mezopotamya said they confirmed the allegations against Çağlar and expressed concern that the incidents might be covered up rather than investigated further.

According to the families, two commanders from the Aegean Garrison Command who were assigned to conduct an internal investigation into the allegations pressured the soldiers not to file their complaints.

When Çağlar was a major in 2015, Taha Yapar, a soldier under his command, took his own life, Mezopotamya said, adding that it was claimed at the time that the incident may have been the result of a sexual assault that was covered up.

The Turkish military is criticized for its defensive posture and is accused of cover-ups when its members are allegedly involved in criminal acts. Courts also generally rule in favor of military members.

A Turkish court late last year handed down a suspended sentence of 10 years to former noncommissioned officer Musa Orhan on conviction of sexual assault. He was standing trial for raping an 18-year-old Kurdish woman, İpek Er, who later died by suicide.

Since the sentence was suspended, Orhan wasn’t arrested but was rather placed under judicial supervision, in a decision condemned by human rights activists. Many women’s associations in Turkey also criticized the decision, saying the judicial system was “protecting a rapist” by allowing him to walk free.

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