In Turkey, The Double-Edged Sword Of Domestic Violence

Murders of women, often at the hands of ex-lovers or husbands, appear to be on the rise in Turkey. Rights activists say many of the killings could be prevented – if only authorities paid more attention to cries for help.

In Turkey, The Double-Edged Sword Of Domestic Violence
Laure Marchand

ISTANBUL – On sick leave for a month, Filiz Akdogan is making a point of not staying shut up in her apartment. On this day, she is dealing with her trauma by surrounding herself with friends and colleagues in a hairdressing salon in Maltepe, a lively district located on Istanbul's Asian shoreline. Still, she moves slowly so as not to revive the pain.

Three weeks ago, Akdogan, a pretty 27-year-old redhead with green eyes, was cutting a customer's hair when she was suddenly attacked by her ex-husband. Using a screwdriver as a weapon, the man stabbed her repeatedly – in the stomach, lungs and an armpit. Akdogan survived only because her boss came to her rescue.

Akdogan divorced her husband two years ago, and had feared such an attack ever since. Twice the man uttered death treats, which she reported to the police, only to be told "not to worry."

"If he really intended to kill you, he would have done it already," they said.

After the attack, Akdogan's brother stood guard 24 hours a day in front of her hospital room. "I was not given police protection and my family was worried that he might come back," says Akdogan. Police did eventually arrest the ex-husband. Akdogan worries, though, that he won't stay locked up for long. "What will happen then?" she whispers.

A website called Bianet, which provides daily specialized coverage focusing on human rights, combed through local newspapers to discover that between February and March alone, 52 women were killed in Turkey. The macabre figure corresponds with Justice Ministry statistics, which show that the number of premeditated female homicide victims rose 14-fold between 2002 and 2009, from 66 to 953.

Do these dramatic numbers reflect a real increase in murders? Or are they instead an indication that authorities are paying increasing attention to the phenomenon? Probably both, observers say. Today, honor killings and spousal murders do draw more public attention than in the past. But women's rights associations are also convinced the incidence of violence itself is increasing. Last year, they point out, 27% of female homicide victims were killed after seeking a divorce. "They are more exposed to violence because they want to gain their freedom," says lawyer Esra Bas.

Akdogan's experience was a case in point. "My ex-husband was not violent with me until we got divorced," she says. "The situation grew worse when he saw that I managed very well on my own."

In the past few years, Turkish authorities have passed a series of legal reforms aimed at reinforcing women's rights. And just last week, the 47 member countries of the Council of Europe were gathered in Istanbul to sign a Convention on preventing domestic violence and other forms of violence against women. Among those signing the exemplary treaty was Turkey's foreign affairs minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, the current chairman of the Council.

"This convention really proves that the government has committed itself to combating violence against women," says Güldal Aksit, president of the Parliamentary Commission on Equal Opportunities for Men and Women.

Still, treaties and reforms can only go so far in protecting women in a country where gender-based violence has a strong cultural component. "The victims are isolated because the traditional Turkish family structure endures," says Aksit.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports that enforcement failures are an aggravating if not mortal factor in Turkey. "Police and the prosecutors don't take women seriously," says HRW's Gauri Van Gulik. "The judges take a long time to issue restraining orders, and even when they do, the orders are not enforced. Not only does the protection system not work, it might also exacerbate tensions."

Turkey is not lacking for morbid examples of Van Gulik's assertions. One recent victim, 42-year-old Ayse Pasali, was refused police protection despite the fact her ex-husband had told their children he planned to kill her. He later followed through on that threat, stabbing Pasali to death. Another example is the case of Arzu Yildirim, 33, who was shot eight times this past February by an ex-boyfriend. After the women died, police found that her handbag contained a copy of a registered complaint andaddressed to prosecutors, just two days before the tragedy. "Arzu was left on her own, she had to face her fate alone," says attorney Meriç Eyüboglu.

Like many women's rights activists, Meriç Eyüboglu puts some of the blame on the governing AKP, a conservative Muslim party that she and other critics accuse of encouraging violent attitudes against women. "The AKP's embrace of religious values and its growing conservatism target the woman's body and sexuality," she says.

The AKP are not the only ones accused of espousing sexist attitudes. In February, a theology professor declared that women who wear low-necked clothing are partly responsible if they are raped. Human rights associations asked for a sanction. But Turkey's top education authority concluded that the academic's point of view was protected by freedom of speech.

Read the original article in French.

Photo - Jikatu

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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

"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.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

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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