Top court decision to uphold sentence of woman who killed abusive husband sparks outrage

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Women’s rights groups and social media users have condemned a recent decision by Turkey’s top court to uphold a prison sentence handed down to a woman who in 2015 killed her abusive husband in self-defense.

The Supreme Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld a prison sentence of 15 years given to Çilem Doğan on charges of murder after she killed her husband Hasan Karabulut, who, according to local media reports, had subjected her to systematic violence and sexual abuse and had forced her to do sex work for years, in July 2015.

Doğan, who had been arrested shortly after she killed Karabulut and spent 11 months behind bars, is expected to be rearrested within a week and serve her sentence, Turkish media reports said.

The court’s decision sparked outrage in Turkey, where scores of rights advocates argue that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s move to withdraw Turkey from the İstanbul Convention and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s rhetoric and policy of impunity have led to the large number of femicides, attempted murders and sexual abuse taking place in the country.

“Çilem Doğan had to kill in order to survive because the state didn’t fulfill its duty to prevent the violence she was being subjected to. And today, she was sentenced. … [We want] not male justice, but real justice!” the Women Are Strong Together, a broad women’s platform in Turkey, on Thursday said in a tweet.

Feminist Lawyers, another platform promoting women’s rights, accused the Supreme Court of Appeals of giving a “misogynistic decision.”

“In times when male violence is tolerated by the state, of course, the male-oriented judiciary punishes a woman who protects her life. Those who choose to watch rather than prevent the violence [targeting women] asked Çilem Doğan: ‘Why did you protect your life?’” they added.

The Women for Equality Platform (EŞİK) also underlined that self-defense was a right and it wasn’t acceptable for Doğan to be put in prison while murderers, rapists and child abusers walk freely in the streets due to the ruling AKP’s policy of impunity.

“Çilem killed her husband just to stay alive. Your understanding of justice, which favors men who kill women because their ego is hurt and punish women under all circumstances, isn’t fair. … That’s enough!” Zehra Çelenk, a columnist for the Gazete Duvar news website, said.

“Those who make this decision, are you comfortable with it? Is this fair?” Ezgi Mola, a popular Turkish actress, also tweeted.

Gender-based violence is a serious problem in Turkey. According to a report published earlier this year by Sezgin Tanrıkulu, a human rights defender and a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), nearly 7,000 women have been victims of femicide during the 18 years that the AKP has been in power. The number of known femicides has reached 296 this year according to the We Will Stop Femicide Platform.

Erdoğan drew condemnation from Turks and the international community for pulling Turkey out of the Council of Europe (CoE) Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, an international accord designed to protect women’s rights and prevent domestic violence in societies, on March 20, despite high statistics of violence targeting women in the country.

Women’s rights organizations have for years been trying to raise awareness about the increase in violence against women that has taken place in the last decade.

Many think it is linked to the policies and the rhetoric of the ruling AKP, which has its roots in political Islam, while Erdoğan has long been accused by critics of seeking to erode the country’s secular principles and limit the civil liberties of women.

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