Turkish police have detained 13 women including a minor who took part in a march to mark International Women’s Day on March 8 in İstanbul’s Taksim neighborhood on charges that they insulted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, according to a statement from the İstanbul Governor’s Office on Thursday.
The statement said 18 women who chanted slogans at the end of the Feminist Night March in Beyoğlu were identified on Wednesday and that 13 of them including a minor were detained in police raids the same day.
Thousands of protesters walked along a street in central İstanbul on Monday to denounce violence against women in Turkey, where more than 400 women were killed last year. Unlike previous years when police broke up similar demonstrations, the Feminist Night March, held in İstanbul since 2003 to mark women’s day, ended peacefully.
According to a statement from the University Women’s Collective, a popular feminist group, police raided the houses of many women in İstanbul and according to the account of one of the women, the reason for the raids was a slogan chanted by the women against Erdoğan.
“The women in detention should immediately be released. Your pressure cannot intimidate women,” said the statement.
According to a statement posted on the Twitter account of the March 8 Feminist Night March group, the women testified to prosecutors at the İstanbul Courthouse on Thursday, and two of the detainees informed the group that they were forced to undergo strip-searches.
Strip-searches in Turkey’s detention centers and prisons came to public attention at the end of 2020 when an opposition deputy brought up the claims of women who were subjected to strip searches under police custody. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) strongly denies the existence of the controversial practice, although scores of women as well as men recounted on social media their traumatic experiences caused by strip-searches.
Arkadaşlarımız adliyeye getirildi. İfadeleri alınmaya başlandı.
— 8 Mart Feminist Gece Yürüyüşü (@8MartYuruyus) March 11, 2021
Journalist Burcu Karakaş posted a photo of a police document on Twitter that included questions directed at the detained women by the police during their interrogation.
“It has been discovered in video footage that you chanted slogans saying, ‘Run Tayyip run, the women are coming.’ What were you aiming for in chanting this slogan?” was one of the questions the women were asked.
— Burcu Karakaş (@burcuas) March 11, 2021
Another slogan chanted by the women was “Jump, jump those who don’t jump are Tayyip.”
The women were allegedly identified according to whether or not they jumped to the slogan because they were wearing masks against the coronavirus and their mouths were covered.
Insulting the president is a crime in Turkey, according to the controversial Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK). Whoever insults the president can face up to four years in prison, a sentence that can be increased if the crime was committed through the mass media.
Insult cases generally originate from social media posts shared by Erdoğan opponents. The Turkish police and judiciary perceive even the most minor criticism of Erdoğan or his government as an insult.
The detentions came despite a pledge by Erdoğan last week to enact human rights reforms, including on freedom of speech.