Turkish women’s rights groups launch campaign against death penalty

Women’s groups in Turkey have started a campaign warning that capital punishment is the wrong approach to tackle violence after the murder of a woman by her husband sparked calls for the return of the death sentence.

Prominent figures in Turkey, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, backed the return of the death penalty after footage of the killing of Emine Bulut by her ex-husband spread on social media in August, provoking an uproar over Turkey’s grave gender violence problem.

But leading women’s rights groups have rejected the idea, warning that systemic violence against women would not be solved with more violence.

The hashtag #idamçözümdeğil – the death penalty is not the solution – spread on social media this month after it was shared by the women’s groups in posts offering solutions to the problem.

“Countries which have the death penalty also have among the highest rates of violence against women,” Women for Women’s Human Rights said in a tweet on Monday.

Other posts demanded that existing laws to prevent violence were implemented instead of introducing the death sentence.

“The solution is shelters that can be accessed by all women, women’s solidarity centres, a 24-hour emergency counselling line, and rape crisis centres,” said another of the posts shared under the hashtag by the Foundation for Women’s Solidarity.

Turkey was the first signatory of the Istanbul Convention, groundbreaking Council of Europe legislation addressing domestic and gender violence.

However, there has been much opposition to the convention from religious conservatives and men’s rights groups, who say it harms family values and leaves men at a disadvantage by requiring alimony payments in divorce cases.

Women’s activists say the existing laws in Turkey are sufficient to tackle abuse, but the government has dragged its feet in properly implementing them.

The latest calls for the return of the death penalty aim to distract the public from the issue, said Canan Güllü, the head of the Federation of Women’s Associations of Turkey.

“The last six or seven times there was an incident that caused an uproar, the government said it would sign off on a law bringing back capital punishment. For the death penalty to come to parliament would be a backward step away from modernity,” Güllü told the Hürriyet newspaper.

The calls for the return of the death sentence are “an attempt to take the momentum away” during periods of uproar about Turkey’s femicide problem, she said. “That’s why we wanted to start our campaign to show people why we don’t need to death penalty.”

Women’s rights groups last month reported that 245 women had been murdered in domestic violence since the beginning of the year.

Nearly 40 percent of Turkish women face physical or sexual violence from a partner, according to the United Nations, while 409 Turkish women were murdered by a partner or family member in 2017, a 75 percent increase from 2013, according to the watchdog group We Will Stop Femicide.