The Anadolu Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office in İstanbul on Wednesday launched an investigation into renowned Turkish actress Berna Laçin, who voiced opposition to the death penalty by tweeting about the “record number of rape incidents” in the Saudi Arabian city of Medina, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported.
“If the death penalty was a solution, then the lands of Medina would not break records in the number of rape incidents,” Laçin tweeted on Tuesday. Laçin’s comments about Medina, the second holiest city in Islam after Mecca, came after the Turkish public started to debate reinstatement of capital punishment amid a wave of violent crimes in which a number of children and women were victimized.
The prosecutor’s office said in a statement that Laçin would be investigated over claims she “insulted people’s religious values,” a charge that has previously led to jail sentences.
In 2016 two Turkish journalists were sentenced to two years in prison in a case in which the prosecutor argued that they had “insulted people’s religious values” when they republished the cover of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo featuring an alleged image of the Prophet Muhammad.
Laçin defended herself after a storm ensued on social media, saying her comment was not about Islam, but Saudi Arabia, where capital punishment is legal. “I was talking about the current social order of Medina. When I say Medina, why do you not think of the [Saudi] Arabian city instead of thinking of holiness? Calm down,” she said on social media.
“Would I be insulting Christians if I said something negative about Sweden?” the 48-year-old actress asked, adding that she was intentionally targeted by social media trolls to promote their pro-death penalty campaign.
Meanwhile, thousands of people took to the streets in three western Turkish cities, including İstanbul on Tuesday and Wednesday to protest recent cases of sexual abuse and murders of children.
Three children who went missing have made headlines across Turkey over the past two weeks. While two of the three youngsters were found dead, one of them is still being sought by volunteers, law enforcement and the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD).
Eylül Yağlıkara was found dead on July 1, buried near a power pole after a weeks-long search by authorities. Her death sparked outrage across Turkey, where many people had closely followed the search.
Meanwhile, 4-year-old Leyla Aydemir was reported missing on June 15 near her home in the eastern province of Ağrı. Teams dug holes, inspected fields and climbed down wells around the village but were unable to bring back good news for 18 days. Aydemir was found dead on Monday in Ağrı’s Bezirhane village, some three kilometers from her own village.
In another heart-wrenching case, six-year-old Ufuk Tatar was reported missing in southern Hatay province, local media reported on July 1. Tatar, who has a speaking disability, reportedly went missing in a forest near the Amanos Mountains, prompting search and rescue efforts that are still ongoing.
A question posed to the Family and Social Policies Ministry in March, meanwhile, was left up in the air. In response to a question raised by independent deputy from Ankara Aylin Nazlıaka about how many children went missing in 2017, the ministry instead gave the number of children found: 11,691.
“Some 8,684 of these children were returned to their parents while 2,147 of them were put under state protection,” the ministry stated.
In 2016, however, the Interior Ministry was quoted as saying that around 15,900 children remained missing following an inspection proposal made by a deputy from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in parliament.
In her parliamentary address, MHP Aydın deputy Deniz Depboylu had also quoted data from the “Families Who Lost Their Loved Ones” research project that were nearly double the official data – or around 30,000.
Amid outrage over the latest cases, officials and political leaders have once again brought up the debate on harsher punishments and heavier penalties, such as “chemical castration.”
“In the new term, we will take steps for harsher penalties. We will implement what is called ‘chemical castration’,” Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ said on Monday during a visit to Yozgat province.
Meanwhile, MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli brought up the death penalty debate once again on June 30.
A report prepared by Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) on Thursday showed that an average of 968 children in Turkey were reported missing every month according to Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat) data compiled between 2008 and 2016.
The report, which was initiated by CHP Vice Chairman Gamze Akkuş İlgezdi, claimed that there has also been an increase in child abuse, child marriages and child poverty over the past years, adding that the term “child abuse” is currently interpreted only within the framework of physical and sexual abuse.
The CHP suggested that necessary measures should be taken to cover the remaining “extensive, painful and worrying” areas of child abuse.
“According to TurkStat data, girls went missing most frequently in Antalya between 2008 and 2016, followed by İzmir, İstanbul, Ankara and Adana,” the CHP’s press department said.
Within the same period, the number of children going missing was 26,168 with most of them being girls, while the number of children left deliberately unprotected by their parents or legal representatives stood at 790.
The extensive report comes as Turkey struggles with several cases of missing children and child murders. Amid a public outcry over recent cases of sexual abuse against children, the government has pledged to step up measures to prevent similar crimes.