Who should be on trial in Turkey?

I was surprised and disappointed when I learned that a court hearing has taken place in Turkey in which the authorities are prosecuting the Duchess of York over her involvement in a TV documentary, broadcast as part of the "Tonight" programme in 2008, which suggested that there was mistreatment of children in state orphanages in Ankara.

Now I am not one of those who always leaps to the conclusion that Turkey is in the wrong whenever they are criticised. They are not perfect - what nation is? But they have made enormous strides in the past hundred years. Less than a century ago they still had a society straight out of the middle ages: since them Turkey has become a democracy, however imperfect, which has their own version of the separation of church and state, where the constitution and the rule of law means something.

While I would not condone the treatment of moderate Kurdish politicans as though they were terrorists, I know from personal experience that Turkey does have a genuine problem with Kurdish terrorism. A few years ago a couple of Kurdish lunatics threw an improvised Molotov cocktail through one of the windows of a London office block in which I and about six hundred other people were working. (Part of the building was leased to a Turkish bank which appeared to have been their target.) The bomb landed on a secretary who suffered some nasty burns and could easily have been far more severely injured.

I don't think Turkey has quite reached the stage yet where they should be eligible for immediate E.U. membership, but they have made considerable strides towards the position where this could be seriously considered.

And nor am I an automatic fan of Sarah Ferguson.

Nevertheless, the authorities in Turkey should think very carefully about whether their attempt to prosecute the Duchess of York is in the interests of the people of Turkey in general and of children in Turkish orphanages in particular. If her documentary had been about an orphanage in Britain, it would be the people running the orphanage, not the people who made the film, who would have been facing prosecution.

The events of recent years suggest that almost all countries, including Britain, Turkey, and just about everywhere else, need to improve their policies to safeguard vulnerable children from abuse. You don't protect either children or your country's reputation by prosecuting whistleblowers, unless you have cast iron evidence that they have fabricated their claims, which does not appear to be the case here. You protect both vulnerable children and your country's reputation by demonstrating that where evidence of mistreatment is presented you will act to stop it.


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