ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey has summoned officials from Austria and Sweden to protest against news reports and Twitter comments in the two countries relating to a Turkish Constitutional Court ruling on child abuse.
Turkey protested to Austria over a news ticker at Vienna's airport that claimed Turkey allows sex with children under age 15. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also accused his Swedish counterpart of spreading "lies" after she called on Ankara to protect children's rights through her Twitter account.
Cavusoglu said the reports that appeared in Austria and Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom's tweet were a reflection of the "racism, anti-Islamic and anti-Turkish (trend) in Europe."
Turkey's Constitutional Court last month scrapped an article in the penal code that defined all sexual acts against children as abuse, triggering concern among children's rights advocates that the move will lead to an increase in child sexual abuse cases.
The court justices voted 7-6 to uphold a local court which argued that all cases should be reviewed individually and that someone who abuses a 4-year-old should not receive the same punishment as someone who has consensual sex with a 15-year-old. The previous law remains in force for six months, giving Parliament time to enact a new law, while children's rights advocates will seek to have the judgment reversed at the European Court of Human Rights.
Wallstrom tweeted on Sunday: "Turkish decision to allow sex with children under 15 must be reversed. Children need more protection, not less, against violence, sex abuse."
A Foreign Ministry official said the Austrian charge d'affaires was called to the ministry on Saturday for an official complaint about the "distorted" headline which appeared on a screen at the airport the same day. The Swedish charge d'affaires was summoned on Monday over the minister's tweet, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government rules. Cavusoglu said he would hold a telephone conversation with Wallstrom later on Monday to complain about the "slander and lie."
A ministry statement said Turkey was "attached to its international obligations" regarding children's rights and was "conscious of its responsibilities." Cavusoglu said the Justice Ministry was working on new legislation that would address the issue of proportionality and insisted there was no legal void that would allow child abuse.
A senior official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said anyone abusing a child "right now" will receive between eight and 15 years in prison. A new law would "make sure that children of all ages will continue to be protected against sexual predators."
The ministry official said the report was removed from the screen at the Vienna airport following the Turkish ambassador's intervention.
Turkey also demanded the removal of another news ticker at the same airport a few weeks ago that said visiting Turkey would amount to supporting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the ministry said.
Ties between Turkey and Austria have been tense for several weeks, with a top Austrian official saying Turkey was heading toward a dictatorship and other leaders calling for an end to Turkey's European Union membership talks. Turkey, in turn, has described Austria as the "capital of radical racism."
European nations have voiced concern over Turkey's massive crackdown on alleged supporters of a religious movement led by U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara claims orchestrated last month's violent coup attempt that killed at least 270 people. Turkey has accused European allies of not providing the elected government sufficient support in the face of the attempted coup or its bid to move against the coup plotters.