Amnesty for murderers of women?

Feray Şahin was an interior design student in her final year at Mersin Toros University in southern Turkey. On the night of Sept. 19 last year, she died in her home from a single bullet fired from the gun of Fatih Burak Aykul, a police Special Operations officer. Aykul was arrested, and said the incident occurred as a result of a joke.

Following arraignment, Aykul was sent to jail. Prosecutors argued for a charge of intentional homicide, a crime that carries a life sentence. On Sept. 18 this year, the court handed down its decision. Aykul was guilty of deliberately negligent homicide and given a sentence of just five years and three months.

Outside the courthouse, Şahin’s family was distraught. “Our daughter was intentionally and knowingly murdered. It’s a travesty her killer got such a short sentence. Who is this justice protecting?” They asked in a statement. Their lawyer is appealing the decision.

So what will if the amnesty proposed by the government’s far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) allies becomes law? The amnesty proposal is very much related to Şahin’s case. The proposal does not cover charges of intentional homicide, but it applies to lesser crimes such as negligent homicide and deliberately negligent homicide.

This means that if the proposal passes, someone convicted of deliberately negligent homicide, like Aykul, will go free.

Another case is that of Egemen Vardar, sentenced to five years and 10 months for causing death by deliberate negligence, following the murder of university student Yağmur Önüt with a hunting rifle. Vardar could also go free if the amnesty proposal becomes law.

According to Leyla Süren, an attorney for the We Will End the Murder of Women Platform, proponents of the proposal are attempting to quell opposition by saying the law will not affect women and children.

“The law doesn’t include intentional homicide, sexual assault, or abuse, but domestic violence doesn’t involve only these crimes. In most cases, according to the nature of the crime, violent criminals are charged with crimes like simple assault, causing injury, making threats, blackmail, or insult. If this law passes, when a perpetrator is found guilty in court, he or she will be sentenced, but it’s very likely the sentence will be short, five years or less, or even conditional release, which means the criminal will still be around the victim. Victims will be defenceless and unprotected,” she said.

“There have been women murdered with guns purchased online or stabbed 16 times with seven different knives hidden under a tray, but if the perpetrator said it was an act of rage, he can take advantage of the proposal’s sentencing provisions for good behaviour. For years, men have gotten away with testimony like ‘I just wanted to scare her’ or ‘I was cleaning my gun’ or ‘I saw a message on her phone and got mad, it was a threat to my manhood’ or ‘I was protecting my honour’ or ‘my gun went off by itself’ or even ‘she fell on my knife’,” Süren said.

If men say they loved the woman they killed in a fit of rage, they can claim the murder was not intentional. The courts generally accept these claims, and the charges are reduced from intentional homicide to crimes of passion.

Dr Gülsüm Kav, another representative from the We Will End the Murder of Women Platform, said that a fundamental problem with violence against women was that perpetrators go unpunished.

“In cases of reduced sentencing, what we hear over and over again are claims that the perpetrator was unjustly provoked or showed good behaviour in the courtroom. For child sexual abuse, showing a respectful attitude is enough to get a reduction for good behaviour. Lately, there has been a strong tendency to give suspended sentences or set these perpetrators free,” she said.

Kav has been paying attention to the growing number of cases of violence against women that are thrown out of court for lack of evidence. Particularly in cases of suspicious death, evidence that could prove a crime one way or another is not gathered, and some of these murders are even labelled suicides.

“First of all, these violent crimes are not limited to just women and children; they affect society as a whole. Women’s clothing is used as an excuse for public assaults, sexual assault in the workplace, and stalking, and there are no protective measures. People go unpunished, like the man who kicked a woman in the head for wearing shorts … There are a lot of examples like this, where men get encouragement from the laws,” Kav said.

“Men in prison for all violent crimes, not just those against women and children, are released early or given furlough, and we know they’ll murder women or abuse children again. Of course, everyone should get a fair sentence for their crimes, and no one should stay in prison forever, but protecting women and children is of the utmost importance, along with reducing crime,” she said.

Kav said she was not against all types of amnesty, but that legislators’ hesitance to do away with sentence reductions for good behaviour is harmful to everyone. “The reality of the amnesty proposal is that the jails are full. And who’s in there? Thousands of unjustly imprisoned students, journalists, politicians, and thinkers. These people must be released immediately.”