Father of dead 11-year-old Turkish girl seeks justice

When 11-year-old Rabia Naz Vatan was found dead last April in Eynesil, a town in the northern Turkish province of Giresun, police declared her death a suicide. The little girl had killed herself, police and prosecutors said, by jumping from the roof terrace of her family home after becoming upset with her mother.

But the girl’s father, Şaban Vatan, said police had ignored many details he said contradicted their version of events and accused authorities of mounting a cover-up. Turkey’s traditional media outlets also did not investigate the story and it was social media that brought attention to the case this week.

As the story gathered public interest, Vatan was summoned to Ankara to meet Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on Wednesday, and said the minister had promised to closely follow the case.

Vatan held a press conference in Istanbul on Thursday to explain what he said were the inconsistencies that had led him to reject the official report on his daughter’s death. Vatan worked for almost a year to investigate and piece together what happened to his daughter.

Rabia Naz was found lying on the ground with her left leg all but torn from her body and an artery severed. Yet despite the severity of her injuries, Vatan said there was no blood on the ground, and there were traces of sawdust on her clothes but not on the street where she lay.

The girl had last been seen returning home from school. But, Vatan said, her school bag was initially nowhere to be found at her home or on the roof terrace. While people were searching for the bag, Rabia Naz, was rushed to the hospital, where she died from her injuries. Hours later, police said they had found the bag on the terrace in a spot that had already been searched. Even more suspiciously, Vatan said, Rabia Naz’s clothes were collected by the police, but were kept at the police station instead of being sent for forensic examination.

Vatan is convinced his daughter did not kill herself. Since her death, he has worked tirelessly to track down every lead and clue about her death, while also running a campaign to seek justice.

His discoveries cast serious doubt on the verdict of suicide, and Vatan has accused politicians from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of being involved in covering up the truth.

“This is a child murder,” said Vatan on Tuesday in an interview with Ahval. “Justice should be served, whoever is involved should be questioned,” he said.

The father said he had committed everything he had to solve the case, but denied any political motivation. “They can’t say this is a political issue. We supported the AKP wholeheartedly for years,” he said.

Vatan said he learned from locals that a black Fiat Doblo had been seen passing the area where his daughter’s body was found. He visited a nearby car wash, where staff told him they had cleaned just one car that day: a black car whose driver they said had been in a panic.

Vatan said it only took a brief investigation in Eynesil, a town of 14,000 people, to reveal that a black Fiat Doblo similar to the one described belonged to the nephew of the town’s mayor, Coşkun Somuncuoğlu.

HaberTürk's Sevilay Yılman quoted a police report as saying Rabia Naz had killed herself after falling out with her mother, and Vatan said police had stubbornly held to this version of events. This explanation, however, is contradicted by technical evidence as well as Vatan's own testimony on the case.

According to Vatan, a police officer investigating the death told him that his daughter had killed herself by running across the terrace and leaping off the building. “I asked my own child if he would do this, and he said he would,” Vatan said the officer told him to reinforce the point.

Vatan said the prosecutor handling the case had used a book that had been found in Rabia Naz’s bag, a novel in which one character commits suicide, to back up the official verdict. The book, the prosecutor said, contained a bookmark on the page when the suicide takes place. Vatan said his daughter never used a bookmark when she read.

The first forensics report, prepared by local experts a day after the girl died, cited a general physical trauma as the cause of death. Another forensics report, prepared in September by Hacettepe University, said the girl was most likely hit by a car.

A report published by pro-government daily Sabah quoted three inspectors who conducted a technical investigation of the crime scene. They found that the impact of a sack of Rabia Naz's weight thrown from the terrace could be heard 300 metres away. The local person who found her body said he had heard no such sound on the day she died, Sabah reported.

Vatan accused Cemal Öztürk, an AKP member of parliament, and Nurettin Canikli, a senior AKP deputy and former minister of defence, of taking part in covering up the story. The father accused police of trying to suppress evidence on instructions from above and stringing out the investigation for months.

Vatan has not provided any evidence of Canikli’s involvement, and the former minister has denied any connection to the case. But Vatan believes the involvement of a powerful ruling party official could explain what he described as police concealing evidence.

Vatan’s own investigations led him to a nearby barn, where he suspects Rabia Naz initially been taken by the driver of the black car that hit her before returning the girl to the street near her home after realising she was alive. He and his lawyer were only granted permission to investigate the building after stubbornly insisting. Yet, Vatan said, once they had finally received permission, they discovered it had suddenly been marked for demolition.

They managed to investigate the building shortly before it was knocked down, finding car tyre marks and evidence that could contain DNA in the vicinity, Vatan said. But despite sending requests twice to the prosecutors, Vatan said, the possible DNA evidence has still not been investigated.

As Vatan’s investigations proceeded, he organised a rally outside the AKP’s district office that was attended by 2,000 people. After this, he said, he received a threatening phone call from the mayor’s nephew.

Eventually, Vatan applied to appear on a popular television show that investigates cold cases presented by Müge Anlı. Anlı’s team came and carried out an investigation and shot on location. According to the father, Anlı’s aides later called him and told him that they would not cover the story because of pressure from above.

It was only when her father reached citizen journalist Metin Cihan on Twitter that Rabia’s case gained broad attention from the public. Cihan shared the story on Twitter on Sunday after investigating the details. By Monday morning, hundreds of Twitter users had shared his posts using the hashtag “Rabia Naz’a Ne Oldu?” (What happened to Rabia Naz?).

Suddenly, the story appeared on news sites and statements began to pour in. Anlı’s team contacted Cihan, denying the father’s testimony. They said the presenter had refrained from covering the story because she did not want to encourage suicide.

Canikli also shared a statement on Twitter, calling the allegations lies and slander and denying any cover up. The Giresun Chief Public Prosecutor released a statement saying the investigation was continuing and that police were working on collecting evidence.

The prosecutor said media reports that indicated a possible cover-up had irresponsibly brought the judiciary under suspicion. Yet, if Vatan’s story is true, the same prosecutor has serious questions to answer.