The trial of Sarah Ferguson, the duchess of York, began on Friday at an Ankara criminal court that will rule in absentia on the legality of an undercover TV documentary made by Ferguson which investigated the conditions of Turkey’s orphanages.
The Ankara 2nd Criminal Court heard opening remarks from the Family and Social Policy Ministry’s lawyers, who argue that the reputation of Turkey was damaged by the documentary through its bleak portrayal of neglect in Turkey’s orphanages and homes for disabled children. Using a hidden camera, the duchess filmed what it alleged were shocking conditions in two Turkish orphanages, the Saray Rehabilitation Center for severely disabled children near Ankara, and a facility in the Zeytinburnu district of İstanbul. Turkish authorities have said that the film, which aired on Britain’s ITV1 in November 2008, violated Turkish law by “acquiring footage and violating the privacy of five children.” British authorities have said they have no intention of extraditing Ferguson and as a result the Ankara court’s charges have been made in absentia. The punishment for “violating the privacy” of the orphans does, however, carry a maximum sentence of 22-and-a-half years, and Turkey has appealed to countries with which it has extradition treaties -- including the US -- to arrest Ferguson if she travels abroad to those countries. In the 2008 documentary, which also investigated orphanages in Romania, children were seen tied to beds and disabled children were neglected in understaffed facilities. Ferguson has publically apologized to the Turkish government for any embarrassment the documentary may have caused. The film infuriated the Turkish government upon its release in 2008, with former Turkish Minister of Women and Family Affairs Nimet Çubukcu saying of the film, “It is obvious Sarah Ferguson is ill-intentioned and is trying to launch a smear campaign against Turkey by opposing Turkey’s EU membership.”