ANKARA • Turkey's ruling party has withdrawn for review a proposed Bill allowing men accused of sexual abuse to avoid sentencing, but a public uproar has persisted, with opposition parties and civil society groups calling for it to be cancelled entirely.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the draft will be withdrawn from Parliament's general assembly and sent back to a commission for review and to seek the opinion of the opposition and civil society, in line with a call from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for a wider consensus.
The proposal would have allowed sentencing to be indefinitely postponed in cases of sexual abuse committed "without force, threat or deception" before last Wednesday, if the perpetrator married the victim.
The ruling AK Party's Bill drew condemnation from many, who said it would provide a legal basis for sexual abuse under the pretext of underage marriages. Among the critics was a women's association seen as close to Mr Erdogan.
The government said the Bill would remedy the situation of men who were sent to jail after they married girls under the age of 18 in religious ceremonies and with the consent of their families. It rejected suggestions that the plan amounted to an "amnesty for rape".
Several thousand people, some carrying banners saying "Rape cannot be acquitted" or "There is no such thing as child brides, only pervert men", demonstrated outside Parliament to demand the immediate cancellation of the Bill. Police fired pepper spray on one of the groups.
"As thousands of demonstrators have shown, women's rights are not negotiable," Ms Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty International's deputy director for Europe, said in a written statement.
The opposition and civil society groups said the step back by the AK Party on the Bill was not enough and called for the proposal to be dropped entirely.
"No matter what everyone else says, this proposal promises an amnesty for rapists," said Nationalist Movement Party leader Devlet Bahceli in a speech in Parliament. "I call on the AKP: Do not settle with pulling this proposal back to the commission. Drop it entirely."
Civil marriage under the age of 18 is illegal in Turkey, but marriage between men and underage girls in religious ceremonies is not uncommon, particularly in rural areas. Some have argued that such marriages are not abusive and the couples are simply unaware of the civil law.