In Turkey, A Mysterious Spate Of Suicides Raises Spectre Of “Honor Killings”

Nine girls and young women reportedly committed suicide over a 10-day period this month in Batman Province, Turkey. Women’s rights activists believe some victims may have been murdered.

Hasankyef and River Dide in the Batman Region
Hasankyef and River Dide in the Batman Region
Boris Kalnoky

For more than ten years, Batman, a province in the eastern part of Turkey, and its eponymous capital city, have been known for a particularly high rate of suicide, particularly among young women. At least, so it would appear. Women's organizations, however, claim that in many cases the deaths aren't suicides – they're "honor killings."

Now the area is again making headlines after "Milliyet," a Turkish newspaper, reported that there had been nine suicides within a 10-day period, "most of them" involving young girls and women. Last week, an 11-year-old girl was discovered hanged – but did she hang herself, as is alleged, or did she get some help?

The news came just as the phenomenon in Batman seemed to be over. Up until the latest victims, there had been nine reported suicide deaths so far in 2011 as opposed to 29 in the first four months of 2000. However, this latest series demonstrates that the problem is very far from finished.

Suicide rates in the region differ considerably from the country's average. While the average rate of suicide in Turkey has risen significantly in the last ten years, from 2.5 to 4 for every 100,000 inhabitants, that is still a very low rate compared with most Western countries (in Germany, the rate is around 15 per 100,000 inhabitants). Most other Muslim countries have similarly low rates like as in Turkey.

Disguised as murders

But in the southeastern part of Turkey, the rate is twice the national average – and while more men usually commit suicide than women, in Batman it's the opposite. Noteworthy too is the age of the women – on average, 20.7 years. By comparison, in Western countries most women who commit suicide are over 45.

Women's rights activist Hülya Gülbahar is convinced that the explanation for the skewed figures is that many of Batman's "suicides' are in fact murders. The Turkish government has taken a number of steps over the last decade to reduce the number of "honor killings," including more severe punishment or no longer recognizing mitigating circumstances such as "provocation" by the victim. But this crackdown, Gülbahar believes, helps explain why more such killings are being staged as "suicides."

In some cases, Gülbahar reports, the victim is talked into killing herself "if she loves her family": she has to die anyway, and if she kills herself it means her poor father or brother will be spared a long prison sentence. Other families cut to the chase, and simply throw the victim out the window.

However, says Hatice Yilmaz of the Women's Rights Commission in Batman, some deaths may well be self-inflicted: many women in Turkey suffer from domestic violence, and sometimes it does lead them to suicide.

Read the original article in German

Photo - Senol Demir

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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