Sarah Ferguson tried in absentia in Turkey


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The Independent Online

A Turkish court has begun a trial against Britain's Duchess of York for allegedly taking part in the secret filming of two orphanages in Turkey, the state-run news agency said.

Sarah Ferguson faces charges of going "against the law in acquiring footage and violating privacy" of five children at one of the orphanages, the Anadolu Agency said. If convicted, she could receive a maximum sentence of 22 1/2 years in prison. 

The trial began yesterday, and Ferguson did not attend the opening session, the agency said. 

Ferguson, the former wife of Britain's Prince Andrew, allegedly made an undercover trip to Turkey in 2008 during which she secretly visited the two state-run orphanages along with two British TV journalists. 

The footage of the five children was filmed at the Saray Rehabilitation and Care Center orphanage near Ankara and shown on the British ITV program "Duchess and Daughters: Their Secret Mission." The secretly filmed images appeared to show the children tied to their beds or left in cribs. 

The government has accused the duchess of smearing Turkey's image. 

The news agency quoted her lawyer, Cansu Sahin, as saying the duchess is seeking an out-of-court settlement. 

Canan Yildiz, a lawyer representing the five children and Turkey's Family and Social Policies Ministry, said her clients have been "harmed" and would like to join the public prosecution against Ferguson and the two British journalists who have been also indicted in the case and could be tried separately. 

The court agreed to hear testimony from the five children who were filmed, but Yildiz said some of them are mentally retarded and others are handicapped, and that it would have been better if their testimony was taken at the orphanage. 

Anadolu did not say when the next hearing at the Ferguson trial will be held, and the lawyers in the case could not be reached for comment today.