Harsh penalties for sect members in child abuse case
The Istanbul Anatolia 2nd High Criminal Court has issued its rationale for the sentences given to three individuals involved in the sexual abuse and enslavement of a young girl, H.K.G., starting from the tender age of six. Kadir İstekli, a follower of the İsmailaga sect-affiliated Hiranur Foundation, received a 30-year sentence for qualified sexual abuse of a child. Yusuf Ziya Gumusel, the father and founder of the foundation, was sentenced to 20 years, while Fatima Gumusel, the mother, was handed a sentence of 16 years and eight months.
The court's detailed reasoning shed light on the disturbing events that transpired under the guise of religious 'marriage.' Witnesses at the so-called imam's wedding could not confirm the participant's presence or age, suggesting a lack of transparency and consent. Just days after the ceremony, İstekli began abusing the victim, using the pretext of their new 'husband and wife' status.
The abuse, which started with simple acts, escalated over time. İstekli was reported to have punished the girl in his religious classes whenever she resisted his advances. The jury was horrified to learn that the defendant was integrated into the family unit, recognized as the 'groom' and 'brother-in-law,' and participated in family gatherings.
Evidence presented in court included photographs of the victim in a wedding dress at a tender age, alongside İstekli, depicting a relationship that went beyond the acceptable bounds of a teacher-student dynamic. While İstekli attempted to justify the photos with claims of coercion by the victim's older brother, the court found his defense implausible and self-serving.
The court also considered audio recordings of conversations between İstekli and the victim as critical evidence, noting the insular and conservative nature of the family that would make other forms of evidence challenging to acquire. These recordings, alongside the testimonies and other materials, painted a grim picture of ongoing abuse that started when the victim was just six years old and continued until shortly before she complained to authorities in November 2020.
The verdict heavily criticized the collaboration of the victim's parents. Yusuf Ziya Gumusel was found guilty of facilitating the abuse by arranging the imam's marriage and later allowing the victim and İstekli to live together from the age of 14. Fatima Gumusel, initially opposed to the marriage, eventually accepted and enabled the relationship, even pressuring her daughter to conform to her 'marital' obligations.
In issuing the sentences, the court underscored the gravity of the crimes and the significant impact they had on the victim, who was robbed of her childhood and autonomy. The decision sends a strong message against child abuse and the misuse of religious institutions to perpetrate such heinous acts.