Turkey warns travelers at airport of high ‘rape rate’ in Sweden amid underage sex scandal

A passenger looks around to read a billboard that reads, 'Travel warning - Do you know that Sweden has the highest rape rate worldwide?' at the departures area of the Istanbul Ataturk International airport on August 19, 2016. © Ozan Kose
Turkey has posted its own "travel warning" amid an ongoing international scandal linked to Turkey’s underage sex law, placing ads at Istanbul Airport alleging that "Sweden has the highest rape rate worldwide."

The "warning" apparently appeared at the international Ataturk airport, in the form of a banner, by the Turkish Gunes newspaper, The Local reported on Friday.

Earlier, Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom took to social media, calling on Ankara to "reverse" a court ruling which she believed legalized sex with children under the age of 15 in Turkey. Ankara blasted the Swedish official, with her Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu calling the allegations "lies" and said that Wallstrom had no idea of what she was talking about.

Expressing its support "of freedom of speech," the embassy of Sweden in Ankara said it had "no interest" in demanding that the banner be removed.

The Swedish diplomats in Turkey have also released a statement calling the cited rape statistics "reoccurring misconceptions."

"To compare reported rape in Sweden with reported rapes in other countries with different legal and statistical systems does not describe reality correctly," the Swedish embassy in Ankara wrote. It explained that crime statistics are calculated differently in Sweden, with "every single offense" being recorded separately, even when involving the same victim and suspect over a particular period of time.  

Reporting rates also influence the statistics, the embassy said, adding that their authorities "make great efforts to encourage victims of sexual offenses to report these crimes."

International concern over changes into Turkish laws regarding punishment for sexual abuse of children has already triggered diplomatic trouble. Austria's deputy ambassador in Turkey has been summoned by Ankara over a message shown at Vienna airport, which read "Turkey allows sex with children under the age of 15."

Earlier this year, Turkey's constitutional court canceled a legal article pertaining to the sexual abuse of children under 15 years of age following a petition by a lower court, which said there was no difference between cases of sexual acts involving teenagers or toddlers. According to Turkish Hurriyet Daily, the move was to "increase rather than decrease sentences for the crime."

Gradual punishments based on the age of the sexual abuse and rape victims will be written into law soon, the Turkish media explained, saying a distinction will be made between victims aged under 12 and those aged between 12 and 18. Citing unnamed sources, Hurriyet reported that the new law would toughen sentences for offenders targeting younger children.