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Activists call on Turkish government to take effective measures against femicide

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Women’s rights activists have started a new campaign against femicide in Turkey, calling on authorities to be more effective in preventing femicide and protecting women, the Stockholm Center for Freedom reported citing Deutsche Welle Turkish service.

As a first step, the activists demanded that the government monitor exactly how many women are murdered annually. They have complained that the government did not provide the real number of women killed in 2020.

According to Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, the number of femicides decreased by 21 percent last year, with 266 women killed in comparison to 2019, which saw 336 such murders.

However, activists who have been monitoring the numbers by following the media said Soylu’s numbers were not correct. They said it was imperative for the government to be transparent about femicide numbers if they are to effectively combat it.

Lawyer and activist Eylem Atılgan said the Turkish parliament needed to prioritize femicide in its agenda. “The problem is not just that women are killed by men, but that institutions such as the judiciary and law enforcement work in such a way that the perpetrators are protected. The authorities need to get to the bottom of it,” she said.

Atılgan said at least three women a day were killed in Turkey, and many others have died under suspicious circumstances that have either gone down in official records as suicides or accidents.

“If we do not have the correct statistics, we cannot make our case,” she said. “We can’t talk about the number of women who died because they were not given protection, or if they died under [police] protection. Correct statistics will provide us with the proper grounds for fighting femicide.”

She pointed to the highly publicized case of Şule Çet, 23, a student who had died after falling from the 20th floor of a building in Ankara. Çet’s death was initially ruled as a suicide; however, her family, lawyers and activists demanded a thorough investigation, claiming she was murdered by her employer. Two suspects, the employer and a friend, were let go by the police after their interrogation, causing a public outcry.

Amid social media campaigns and protests initiated by women’s associations, an investigation was carried out. An autopsy report indicated that Çet was raped and that her body showed signs of a struggle. It also indicated that she was strangled before the fall. More than a year after the incident, the main suspect, Çet’s employer Çağatay Aksu, was sentenced to life in prison and his accomplice Berk Akand was sentenced to 18 years, nine months for murder.

Atılgan claimed that in this case the family was able to find justice thanks to public pressure and the many people who demanded that the initial claims of suicide to be investigated. However, many similar femicide cases have not been investigated or recorded as such, she said.

Activists highlight that there is no legal provision against femicide in Turkey, whereas countries like Mexico have amended their laws to punish this crime by classifying it as aggravated homicide due to gender. According to activists such a classification would also open the way for domestic and other forms of violence against women to be taken more seriously.

According to a report released by Sezgin Tanrıkulu, a human rights activist and Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy, in March, violence against women has dramatically increased since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002. At least 15,557 women have been murdered in Turkey in the last 18 years.

Despite the rising numbers of femicide, the government started debating a possible withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, a  Council of Europe treaty designed to prevent violence and domestic abuse against women.

The convention was opened for signature in İstanbul in May 2011 and entered into force in August 2014. So far 45 Council of Europe member states have signed the convention, while 34 of them have ratified it, with Turkey being the first among 34 ratifying countries.

Commenting on Turkey’s ratification of the İstanbul Convention, AKP Deputy Chair Numan Kurtulmuş had earlier said it was wrong to become party to the convention, indicating that the government might consider withdrawing from it.

Some activists argued that the convention was not effectively implemented as it was, especially Law No. 6284, which aims to protect women against violence. Women’s rights activist and lawyer Tuba Torun said that courts have given reduced sentences to men based on their good behavior and their claim that they were provoked to violence by the woman. “The courts have used these excuses as extenuating circumstances and have sentenced men to 15 years instead of life in prison,” she said.

Thousands of women simultaneously took to the streets across Turkey protesting the possible withdrawal and calling for full implementation of the İstanbul Convention. Amnesty International warned on August 5 that Turkish authorities should fully implement the İstanbul Convention rather than withdraw from it.

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