Journalist investigated for reporting on child sexual abuse in health minister’s hospital

Journalist Seyhan Avşar

A journalist from the anti-government Halk TV station has announced that she is being investigated for reporting on the alleged sexual abuse of a 6-year-old girl in a hospital owned by the country’s health minister, Turkish Minute reported.

Halk TV court reporter Seyhan Avşar announced on Twitter on Friday that she woke up to the news of a new investigation into her. She had reported that a 6-year-old girl was sexually abused by an X-ray technician at a hospital belonging to Health Minister Fahrettin Koca and that the child’s family was silenced by a payment of TL 150,000 ($5,500) made by Koca’s brother, Özer Koca.

She claimed the family was also made to sign an agreement not to file any complaints against the hospital or the X-ray technician, who was arrested but has been released from prison.

“I am the ‘suspect’ for writing about all this,” Avşar said, adding that in a state governed by law, people who tried to cover up a scandal like this would be held to account.

According to Avşar’s report in May, the incident took place at the Esenler Medipol Hospital in İstanbul in 2019, when then-6-year-old C.A. was brought to the hospital with a sore throat. When the doctor ordered an X-ray, the child was taken to the X-ray room, where she was allegedly subjected to sexual abuse by the X-ray technician, Ahmed Cihad Öz.

C.A.’s family entered the X-ray room after they heard screams from the child, who later recounted the details of the abuse to her family.

The report said Sevgi Yiğit, then an advisor to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and now an executive at the Medipol Healthcare Group, and Koca’s brother visited the child’s family several times and convinced them to sign an agreement stating that they would not speak to the media about the incident. The family was also paid TL 150,000 in May 2021 in what was called “non-pecuniary” damages.

When Koca, a medical doctor by profession, was named health minister by Erdoğan in July 2018, the appointment was criticized because he runs a network of private hospitals. He was appointed health minister again in a new cabinet announced by Erdoğan following his re-election victory in May.

Turkish media reports said earlier this week that Koca is expanding his private hospital network with a new hospital group, named Hayrunnisa, in addition to the Medipol hospitals.

Journalists frequently face legal harassment and physical attacks in Turkey due to their journalistic activities.

Rights groups routinely accuse the Turkish government of trying to keep the press under control by imprisoning journalists, eliminating media outlets, overseeing the purchase of media brands by pro-government conglomerates and using regulatory authorities to exert financial pressure, especially since Erdoğan survived a failed coup in July 2016.

Turkey is ranked 165th in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2023 World Press Freedom Index, among 180 countries, not far from North Korea, which occupies the bottom of the list.

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