Turkey embraces English girl-bride

HUGH POPE

Kahramanmaras and STEVE BOGGAN

A groundswell of popular indignation swept Turkey yesterday over attempts by the High Court in Britain to bring the 13-year-old bride, Sarah Cook, home.

The schoolgirl from Braintree, Essex, is fast becoming a religious and cultural cause celebre in her adoptive country as anger grows over the continued imprisonment of her Turkish husband on statutory rape charges.

Hopes that Sarah would return to England "forthwith", as Sir Stephen Brown, President of the Family Division of the High Court, ordered on Wednesday, appeared to be in vain when her husband, Musa Komeagac, 18, was remanded in custody until 15 February.

He is being held on statutory rape and abduction charges in Kahramanmaras, south-eastern Turkey, which Sarah has made her home since marrying him two weeks ago.

Opinion in the town and in the country's media is undivided: the couple should be left alone. Outside the court yesterday a man shouted to applause: "You meddling English. We will make you accept that Sarah is ours. For us, marrying at this age is absolutely normal."

The provincial governor, Aslan Yildirim, said: "As much as the British courts say they are looking after Sarah's interests, we will look after them here. They are not officially married, but it is considered a marriage according to our customs."

Mr Yildirim was backed by the town mayor. Ali Sezal vowed that he would himself legally marry Sarah and Musa when she turns 14 on 2 September, and would give a job to Musa, who is unemployed.

The chief prosecutor said he would make a decision about an application by lawyers to include Sarah's mother, Jackie, in the suit along with Musa. Ali, Musa's father, and a man who performed the illegal wedding ceremony are named in the indictment. Normally, girls under 15 cannot marry in Turkey. The Turkish press has united behind the couple. Feminist commentators have praised her defiant statements of love, while Islamist newsheets have trumpeted that the case shows the superiority of Islamic Sharia law.

The order making Sarah a ward of court is not binding in Turkey and, according to the Lord Chancellor's department, there are no legal moves designed to persuade the Turkish courts to comply with it.

Nor is the apparent failure by Sarah's mother to bring her daughter home likely to trouble the High Court. "The judge used the word 'forthwith', and that doesn't really have a definition," said one source. "He didn't specify a date."

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