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Child abuse conviction overturned after defendant accuses victims’ family of Gülen ties

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Cevheri Güven

Yaşar Özdemir, 72, was arrested for sexually abusing two underage girls and was sentenced to 16 years, eight months in prison. However, he was released and the charges against him were dropped shortly after he fired his lawyer and hired another one with close links to the ruling party; he accused the family of the children of being affiliated with the Gülen movement; and his soldier son was killed while fighting Kurds in Syria. Now, Özdemir is free and the two minors are undergoing treatment for trauma. His release epitomizes today’s Turkey.

A retired state railroad employee, Özdemir was arrested in 2017 for sexually abusing two sisters who were 11 and 14 years old. He was found guilty by a high criminal court in Konya and was sentenced to 16 years, eight months behind bars. Özdemir then took his case to the Supreme Court of Appeals and made two moves that had a tremendous impact on the country’s justice system.

First he retained as his lawyer Nazif Metehan Aydın, who was also a local official for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Then, in the appeal to the court, the defendant claimed that the parents of the girls had made comments that praised Fethullah Gülen, a US-based cleric and the inspiration for the Gülen movement, which the Turkish government accuses of orchestrating a failed coup in July 2016. Meanwhile, the defendant’s son, a captain in the armed forces, was killed in May 2019 in clashes with Kurdish militia in northern Syria.

The pro-AKP lawyer, the demonization of the Gülen movement in Turkey and the fact that the defendant was the father of a martyr prompted the Supreme Court of Appeals to overturn Özdemir’s sentence and have him released.

The Konya court that handed down the sentence had conducted a detailed psychological examination of the children and had their statements taken in the presence of psychologists. Expert reports submitted to the court had described in detail what they went through and said they were suffering from trauma, anxiety disorder, distraction and a lack of sleep as a result. In addition, the family had submitted other evidence and provided witness accounts that confirmed the allegation.

The defendant’s daughter and son-in-law were police officers. Ironically, his daughter was the head of a unit that combats domestic and gender-based violence.

After the top appeals court’s decision to overturn the sentence, the case was brought back before the Konya high criminal court, which launched a retrial. The court, under the pressure of the defense attorney’s links to the government, the allegations against the family and the defendant’s image of a “the father of a martyr,” acquitted Özdemir at his first hearing all the while having the record show the evidence and the expert reports that proved the defendant’s actions, in a tacit approval of the politically guided nature of its judgment.

The acquittal was taken by the victims’ family to the Supreme Court of Appeals, and the case is now pending before the chamber that had overturned the initial conviction.

The family is furious: child molester is allowed back into society

Following the decision the family notified the Presidential Communications Center (CİMER), a platform where citizens can complain about wrongdoing by public authorities or other individuals.

“They got the man acquitted by saying the family had links to FETÖ,” the complaint said, using the derogatory term coined by the Turkish government to refer to the Gülen movement. “He was acquitted despite evidence that proved his crime. Unfortunately, everyone has found a quick fix, using the word FETÖ to get off the hook for anything. Even if we were guilty as parents, does it mean that our children will be left unprotected? In such cases, children’s testimony alone is sufficient. Yet we had presented additional evidence. The incident led to our children’s depression. They are still undergoing therapy for trauma.”

Rhetoric that anything can be done to Gülen movement members

Özdemir’s trial was evocative of the rhetoric against followers of the Gülen movement that has prevailed in Turkey for the past five years.

Such as a fatwa by pro-AKP cleric Abdulmetin Balkanlıoğlu, who famously said that Gülenists’ property was spoils of war.

Zihni Açba, a nationalist deputy, had revealed that during the night of the July 2016 coup a group in the province of Sakarya had arrived at the gates of a residential complex for soldiers who were suspected of being coup plotters and said, “Their wives are halal [permitted] for us.”

Professor Muttalip Kutluk Özgüven, another supporter of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, suggested in a program broadcast by radical Islamist Akit TV that Gülenists ought to be interned in concentration camps.

“The fight against FETÖ cannot be limited to police methods. We should also establish rehab camps, enact laws to that effect, and in there we should exert psychological efforts on those who support FETÖ but who were not directly involved in criminal activities,” Özgüven said. “Why? Because these people, they have married each other, socialized with each other and they are in a tremendous mental control mechanism no matter how much you try [to get them out of it].”

“If I were the state I would think  that since I have invested in them and educated them, their bodies do not belong to them. They have to serve me, to serve Turkey’s interests. That is why I can’t stand them being against me,” Özgüven said.

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