Turkish authorities should immediately stop the criminal investigation launched into women’s rights activists for shouting slogans at a March 8, 2021 International Women’s Day gathering in İstanbul, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Friday.
The İstanbul Governor’s Office announced on Thursday that 18 women who chanted slogans at the end of the Feminist Night March on Monday in the Beyoğlu neighborhood of İstanbul were identified on Wednesday and that 13 of them including a minor were detained in police raids the same day. On Friday, Turkish media reported that the women were released from police custody.
Authorities should ensure that judicial control measures imposed on them are removed, HRW said.
The women were detained on charges of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a criminal offense in Turkish law punishable by one to four years in prison.
“Opening criminal investigations against women’s rights activists for nonviolent slogans, and taking them from their homes in the middle of the night, demonstrates the Turkish authorities’ profound disdain for freedom of assembly and speech, and of course women’s rights,” said Hillary Margolis, senior women’s rights researcher at HRW. “It speaks volumes that even on a day to celebrate women and promote equality, Turkish authorities would rather target them for peaceful demonstrations than protect their rights.”
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.
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.
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.