A passenger walks past a billboard advertisement reading 'Travel warning - Do you know that Sweden has the highest rape rate worldwide?'
A passenger walks past a billboard advertisement reading 'Travel warning - Do you know that Sweden has the highest rape rate worldwide?' in Istanbul's Ataturk airport Getty

A pro-government Turkish newspaper placed an advert in Istanbul's main airport warning travellers visiting Sweden they could be raped.

Gunes newspaper placed the warning on two billboards in Ataturk Airport's International Terminal. "Travel Warning! Did you know that Sweden has the highest rape rate worldwide?" read one billboard.

Sweden has the highest rape rates per capita in Europe, but not in the world.

It comes after a news ticker at Vienna airport carried the headline, "Turkey allows sex with children under the age of 15", following a controversial ruling by Turkey's supreme court that sex with minors under 15 should no longer be classified as child abuse.

Sweden's foreign minister Margot Wallström criticised the decision, calling on Turkey to defend children's rights.

In response, Ankara summoned both Austria and Sweden's ambassadors. Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the claims highlighted the "racism, anti-Islamic and anti-Turkish (attitude) in Europe".

After Turkey's Constitutional Court released a statement saying: "Sexual abuse actions against children will not be decriminalised and will not remain unpunished, and the legislative body will be provided the opportunity to make a new regulation within the scope set out in the grounds."

The statement went on to say that current laws criminalising sex with children would remain in place until January, when they would be replaced with new legislation. However, the court did not state whether these new laws would legalise sex with children.

Statistics' false picture

On its website the Swedish embassy in Ankara responded to the rape billboards, arguing that their claims were based on "misconceptions".

It said the comparison of sex crime rates in Sweden and other countries "does not describe reality correctly" due to different legal and statistical systems.

In 2011, Brå – the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention – released a statement saying that the high rate of rape crimes in Sweden was down to the country's broad definition of what constitutes rape; Swedish police recording multiple sexual assaults that occur in one incident – or over a long period of time, in the case of long-term abuse – as separate attacks; and improvements in police training leading to more sexual abuse being reported by survivors, rather than a higher rate of actual offenses.

A 2014 report by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights said a number of factors can explain varying rates of recorded sex crime rates between countries, including "the different level of acknowledgement of sexual harassment in national legislation and its prioritisation in specific policies and political debates might be reflected in women's overall level of awareness of sexual harassment as a fundamental rights abuse, and their disclosure of such experiences".

Relations between Turkey and the West have deteriorated since July's failed coup. Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has accused the West of failing to stand with the Turkish government in its condemnation of the uprising.