Turkey Begins Child Abuse Trial That Put Spotlight On Sects

ISTANBUL (AP) — The parents and husband of a woman who was forced into marriage when she was just six years old went on trial in Turkey on Monday on charges of child and sexual abuse, in a case that has shone a spotlight on the country's religious sects.

The woman — now aged 24 and identified only as H.K.G. — had filed a complaint in 2020 against her parents and the man she was forced into marrying as a child in a religious union. The defendants are members of a foundation linked to the influential Ismailaga religious group.

The incident, which was reported by Turkey’s Birgun newspaper last year, sparked public outrage and calls for greater scrutiny of Islamic sects which have become more prominent under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government. Erdogan's ruling party has roots in Turkey’s Islamic movement.

On Monday, the court ruled to hold the hearings behind closed doors and imposed a ban on broadcasts concerning the trial, the T24 news website reported.

The husband, identified as Kadir I., faces at least 30 years in prison if convicted of sexual abuse and abuse of a child. H.K.G.'s father, Yusuf Ziya Gumusel, and mother Fatma Gumusel face a minimum 18 years in prison for child abuse. All three deny the accusations.

Yusuf Ziya Gumusel headed the Hiranur Foundation that is linked to the Ismailaga sect. Kadir I., a prominent member of the foundation, was aged 29 when the alleged abuse began.

Groups advocating women's and children's rights staged demonstrations outside the courthouse calling for measures to stop such abuse of minors by religious sect members. Members of the Hiranur Foundation mounted a counter-protest saying the foundation had become the victim of a defamation campaign.

The best known religious sect in Turkey is the movement led by U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey accuses of orchestrating a failed coup against the government in 2016. Gulen denies involvement in the coup attempt.