Human Rights Watch report exposes Turkey’s alarming abuse against women
By Turkmen Terzi
The arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic and consequent lockdowns has reportedly exacerbated domestic violence globally. Human Rights Watch’s 2021 report has noted alarming rates of femicide and domestic abuse in Turkey. HRW has criticized Turkey for what the organisation noted as carelessness and neglect by Turkish officials. Data collected by women's rights groups on domestic violence and abuse in Turkey highlights staggering annual rates of femicide in the country.
Patriarchal attitudes and values have indeed always plagued Turkish society, however, the situation has worsened as a direct result of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) arbitrary gender policies.
The ruling party has arguably created new grounds for patriarchy in Turkey. The lack of political will means that women are left unprotected with many senior AKP members themselves having been linked to incidents of domestic violence. Turkish police are known to have on many occasions fired teargas to disperse peaceful female protestors. Thousands of women were dispersed by the use of teargas for the last two years during women’s day rallies organised in defiance of a protest ban.
Turkey has introduced major legal reforms designed to protect women, sadly there has been a failure in implementing these penal codes and civil code reforms. HRW has criticised the role of Turkish police in failing to prevent and combat domestic violence. “He Loves You, He Beats You” - these are the words in many cases offered by security forces to victims of abuse who are dismissed and simply ordered to return to their husbands.
The HRW 2021 Turkey report highlights the grave injustices inflicted upon women in the country. The report indicates how the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) executive control and political influence over the judiciary in Turkey has led to courts systematically accepting bogus indictments, detaining and convicting without compelling evidence of criminal activity those individuals and groups that the Erdoğan government regards as political opponents.
HRW detailed how Erdogan’s government mercilessly targets the Gulen Movement members including journalists, opposition politicians, activists and human rights defenders as the AKP accuses the group of being behind the July 2016 coup attempt. The spiritual leader of the group, Fethullah Gulen has always denied any involvement in the coup attempt.
Since the 15 July 2016 coup attempt, more than 17,000 women with their 900 children have been jailed without charge. Women suspected of being Gulen Movement members have also lost their jobs. Besides politically motivated court charges, the recent testimonies of many women indicate that Turkish women continue to suffer immensely at the hands of the Turkish state with reports emerging of women being subjected to the humiliation of strip-searches in front of male officers.
The utterly disgraceful and unlawful strip-search of political prisoners and their visitors caused an outcry last year following Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu addressed these issues in parliament and started a campaign on social media. Following a denial of these claims by ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputy group chairperson Özlem Zengin, scores of women have come forth to talk about their experiences of unlawful strip-searches in Turkey’s prisons.
“Six or seven guards — only two of them female — told me to undress and then squat three times upon arriving at the facility. The worst sentence I’ve ever heard was when they told me to take off my underwear, too. It filled my eyes with tears,” Betül Alpay Kocabıyık, a 26-year-old lawyer who was arrested in 2017 and sent to Muğla E Type Prison explained while detailing the dishonourable practices that target Turkish women.
The Turkish government is not only responsible for the violation of fundamental women’s rights in Turkey alone, but also those of refugees in Turkey as well as Syrian women in their own country with Turkey occupying parts of Northern Syria. HRW’s 2021 report mentions that in the last four years Turkey has continued to exert a great deal of control via Syrian non-state actors in the region where significant human rights abuses continue unabated. The Turkish Duvar news website reported that refugees entering Turkey via the Iranian border experience sexual harassment and physical abuse by Turkish officials.
Women rights activists have expressed concern over the possibility of Turkey withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention which is especially important for the protection of women in a deeply patriarchal society. The joint statement, signed by 155 prominent women warns that femicide had turned into an epidemic in Turkey as the country saw 474 femicide cases last year alone, double the number seen in 2011. This they state makes adherence to the convention increasingly necessary and important.
In Turkey’s current situation, Gulen followers and Kurdish women have suffered immensely at the hands of the Turkish state. HRW 2021 shows that as of July 2020, the Turkish Ministry of Justice and Interior figures confirmed that 58 409 people were on trial and 132 954 still under criminal investigation on terrorism charges linked to the Gulen Movement. Among these are thousands of women who simply had accounts with Gulen affiliated banks, worked in the movement’s schools or gave charity. More than 8 500 prisoners, including elected politicians, journalists, women rights activities are held on remand or convicted for alleged links with the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK), an armed group fighting for an independent Kurdish state.
Two decades ago the tiny island of Sri Lanka saw its peak of the Tamil War. As a Turkish journalist covering the war in Sri Lanka at the time, it astonished and saddened me to see a full-page news article on domestic violence in Turkey in this far away land amid a war. The largest publication, the Daily Mirror, used a large picture of a Turkish woman in bed who had been beaten to the point of broken bones by her Turkish husband. Two decades have passed since, and the sad reality is that the crisis of domestic violence and femicide in Turkey still exists and has only intensified since the establishment of AKP rule in 2003.
* Turkmen Terzi is a Turkish journalist based in Johannesburg.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.