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9 Women Rescued From Fake Reality Show Contest In Turkey

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ISTANBUL — Turkish military police said Thursday that they had stormed an Istanbul villa to rescue nine captive women whose scantily clad images were posted online after they were recruited for a television reality show.

The women said they had believed they were being filmed for a television show like "Big Brother," which confines a group of people to a house under the constant gaze of cameras, the Dogan news agency and other Turkish media said, without citing sources.

Instead, pictures of the women posing in bathing suits and exercising were distributed on a Turkish-language Web site that allowed users to vote for their favorite woman, and see more images, by charging money through their mobile phones.

The women soon realized they had been duped, and asked to leave the villa, according to local media.

The women were rescued Monday in the villa in Riva, a resort near Istanbul, a spokesman for the military police who carried out the raid told The Associated Press. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give details of the raid.

Hilmi Tufan Cakir, a lawyer representing the show's organizers, said eight out of the nine women had formally complained that they were held against their will.

"There is no question of them being forcibly held," Cakir said.

However, he said prosecutors were preparing an indictment against some company officials charging them with holding the women.

According to Turkish news reports, the women said they had responded to an ad searching for contestants for a reality show that would be aired on a Turkish television station.

They were made to sign a contract that said they could have no contact with their families and would have to pay a 50,000 Turkish Lira fine (US$33,000; euro23,000) if they left the show before two months, Dogan reported.

The women were told they could not leave unless they paid the fine and those who insisted were threatened, the agency said.

Cakir said that the show was legitimate and was broadcast on the Internet to paying subscribers.

"They knew that this competition would be aired on the Internet live and that this broadcast would not be open to everyone," he said.

Cakir said about 14 people had been working on the show for the Istanbul Grup Bilisim Electronic, Trade, Communication and Advertisement company.

The show's candy-pink Web site showcases contestants and asks viewers to subscribe through their mobile phones. Clicking on the pictures open up images of the women in shorts, miniskirts or bikinis.

Broken glass could be seen at the entrance of the two-story stone villa and near its pool Thursday. Cameras were removed but a room still had editing and video-monitoring equipment.

A handwritten sign on one door read: "No one can do their hair, touch the makeup or take clothes without permission."

Cakir claimed the raid came after the women became "bored" and one of them called her mother for help. The villa's security guard was detained and released pending the outcome of a trial, he said. It is not unusual for Turkish courts to release suspects from custody if the charges brought don't carry long prison sentences.

"We were not after the money but we thought our daughter could have the chance of becoming famous if she took part in the contest," HaberTurk quoted one of the women's mother as saying. The paper identified her only by her first name, Remziye.

She said the women were not sexually harassed but were told to wear bikinis and dance by the pool.

The Big Brother show has courted controversy around the world since it debuted in 1999 in the Netherlands.

In 2007 a celebrity version of the show in Britain sparked a diplomatic spat after Indians complained that Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty was racially abused by fellow contestants.

In 2006, Australia's then-Prime Minister John Howard appealed to the network broadcasting his country's version of Big Brother to "get this stupid program off the air" after a male contestant rubbed his crotch in the face of a female housemate.