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Erdoğan calls child abuse scandal in religious sect an ‘isolated incident’

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said a child abuse scandal in a religious sect that came to public attention earlier this month was an “isolated incident” and was being used by some to attack Islam, the Birgün daily reported.

The scandal was made public in a report published by Birgün on Dec. 3. A woman named H.K.G., now 24 and the daughter of a man who heads a foundation linked to the influential İsmailağa community in İstanbul, claims she was sexually abused by Kadir İstekli, a then-29-year-old neighbor and member of the community, when she was six.

According to the report, H.K.G. was engaged to İstekli at the age of 13, married him in a religious ceremony when she was 14 and became a mother at 17. Their official marriage reportedly took place when H. K.G. turned 18.

The allegations emerged in divorce and criminal proceedings lodged last year by the woman. H.K.G.’s claims led to outrage in Turkey, with many questioning the role of religious sects in the country and the support of Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) for these communities.

Erdoğan, who spoke at a women’s summit in İstanbul on Monday, described H.K.G.’s ordeal as an “isolated incident,” saying it is being abused by some to attack Islam as well as religious communities.

Religious communities in Turkey, which frequently come to public attention with allegations of child abuse and a lack of transparency, are part of the AKP voter base. Turkey is scheduled to hold presidential and parliamentary elections in June 2023.

Erdoğan said all the relevant government institutions followed the developments and did what was necessary in H.K. G.’ s case. However, children in Turkey face bigger threats than becoming child brides, using the incident to attack the LGBT community.

“What we [really] need to protect our children from is perverse movements. The thing called the LGBT [movement] has no place in our book. … We don’t need something like this. We will fight these dangers more vigilantly,” Erdoğan said.

Although homosexuality was decriminalized by the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor of modern Turkey, in 1858, it is widely frowned upon by large swathes of society, including Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), while same-sex couples are not legal.

One minister previously referred to gay people as “deranged.”

Last year, the government withdrew from the Istanbul Convention on protecting women’s rights, claiming it encouraged homosexuality and threatened the traditional family structure.

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