An imam appointed by Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) to a mosque in the western province of Balıkesir has been arrested on allegations of sexually abusing four boys and three girls between the ages of eight and 12, the Cumhuriyet daily reported on Saturday.
The man, who was appointed by the Diyanet as imam of a mosque in Dursunbey’s Ericek neighborhood, was arrested after an investigation was launched into him on July 7. He was detained the day after over claims that he had sexually abused seven children two months ago.
The imam, who was arrested pending trial and sent to Kepsut Prison in Balıkesir, was appointed to the post by the Balıkesir provincial director of the Diyanet three months earlier, Cumhuriyet said.
Commenting on the development, Muhammet Karakoyun, president of the Balıkesir Street Children’s Association, said it was “extremely serious and worrying,” adding that they would follow the trial to make sure the imam receives the heaviest sentence possible.
Karakoyun also questioned whether the Diyanet effectively investigates its officials to see if they have criminal tendencies before appointing them as imams.
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, cases of child sexual abuse have hit record levels in Turkey in recent years, with children being 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 by human rights defender and main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker Sezgin Tanrıkulu also revealed in November 2021 that 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.