Turkish police violently detain young woman for improper mask use

Police officers in Istanbul’s Kadıköy district were captured on camera on Wednesday violently detaining a young woman, who said she had objected to being fined for improper mask use.

In a video shared by the Contemporary Lawyers Association (ÇHD), officers are seen twisting the woman’s arm and slamming her to the ground.

“Those who speak ill of the officers in this video have ulterior motives,” pro-government journalist Cem Küçük said in a tweet.

Director General of Turkish Police Forces Mehmet Aktaş said he ordered the swift resolution of an investigation launched against the two officers involved with the incident. The officers had been removed from duty as part of the investigation, the Istanbul Governorate said in a statement.

“The woman named R.B. was seen not wearing her mask properly and was warned,” the governorate’s statement said. “R.B. responded to the officers’ warning with insults, did not stop despite more warnings.”

Masks are still mandatory in public in many places throughout Turkey, as numbers of daily new COVID-19 infections continue to rise rapidly. Authorities have been stressing individual precautions, as the country entered what the government calls the controlled normalisation phase on June 1.

Turkey has now seen the highest patient count in six weeks, as announced by Health Minister Fahrettin Koca, and many Turks are concerned for their elderly relatives or loved ones with pre-existing conditions. As such, mask use has remained a heated topic.

The officers “didn’t have masks on themselves”, said an unverified Twitter user who says she is the woman in question. “When I pointed that out and objected to the fine, they wanted to take me to the station. I refused, and as I was walking away, (the officer) came up behind me and held me.”

Pro-government television personality Fuat Uğur said the police “must do their job when faced with nasty shrews such as this who disregard the law”.

“Just three days ago, a young Turkish man in Germany was almost killed under the knee of a police officer like George Floyd for arguing over parking,” Uğur continued, calling for the Turkish officers to be reinstated.

“It is a crime to resist the police,” conservative journalist Hakkı Öcal said in a tweet. “Even if what the police orders is unlawful, it is a separate crime to resist the police. The officers here are right, however rude they may be.”

The young woman said she complied with the officers’ demand to see her ID, but objected to being singled out as there were other people nearby without masks on. One of the officers “wanted to fine me because he saw me from across the road, and was waiting for me to get close”, she said. She also alleged that the officer had sexually harassed her by rubbing up against her body.

Supporters of the officers started a social media campaign, calling for the woman’s arrest and posting photographs of her in revealing clothing and wearing a cross necklace.

Police violence, particularly against women, has continued to occupy the Turkish public discourse as protests were met with police interventions even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Women have been protesting the increasing rate of femicides, and the government’s plans to withdraw from a Council of Europe convention against sex-based violence.

The number of women in Turkey who have been the victim of violence surged by 50 percent, from 145,000 in 2015 to nearly 220,000 in 2018, according to Interior Ministry data.