Turkey is the first state to sign Istanbul Convention (Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence) on May 11, 2011 during the European Council Committee of Ministers. On March 12, 2012, Turkey became the first country to ratify the Convention and it entered into force. As a consequence, conservative media launched a reactionary campaign, which intensified during the past year. This campaign claims that the Convention presents itself against “the Turkish family structure” and that “lays legal grounds for homosexuality”. This subject was brought up by male MPs in meetings chaired by Erdoğan prior to the pandemic. Some of the party chairs and MPs argued for withdrawing from the Convention. Justice and Development Party (AKP) Vice Chair Numan Kurtulmuş’s following statement caused a stir: “We can withdraw from the convention by following the procedures set just like when we signed the convention.”
Women’s movement has been drawing attention to the problems that stem from not implementing the Convention for the past 8 years and has mobilized once again amidst discussions on withdrawing from the Convention. Large demonstrations, rallies and meetings were organized in big cities with precautions in place due to the pandemic. Police response against women and LGBTI+ rights defenders who raised their voice, the very population protected by the Convention, aggravated during this period.
On July 8, 2020, members of Kırkyama Women’s Solidarity and FeminAmfi hung a banner on Directorate of Family, Labor and Social Services of Istanbul building which read: “Enough is enough! Women want to secure their lives!” The protesters chanted “We won’t remain silent, we are not afraid, we won’t obey!” They made the following remarks during their speech from a window of the building: “We will not give up on our earned rights. Istanbul Convention will not be revoked. Women are sentenced to male violence. What is the Ministry of Family and Social Policies waiting for? Are they waiting for our names to trend on social media?” Seven women were taken under custody for protesting, then released after their statements were filed at the police station.
The next call for mobilization by the united women’s movement was to meet at Abbasağa Park in Beşiktaş (Istanbul) and convene a forum on the Convention. When they arrived at the park on July 26, 2020, they saw that the park was surrounded by a police barricade. They were told that Beşiktaş Governorate banned them from entering the park. A large number of women who were members of women’s organizations, political parties, unions, and representatives of other institutions, gathered at F-entrance of the park to protest the ban by clapping and ululations. Women chanted while marching to Beşiktaş Barbaros Square, where the intended forum took place. Following the forum, women were taken under custody by the police on the ferries they took or at the cafes they were sitting. The Labor Party (Emek Partisi) Chair of Istanbul Province Sema Barbaros and Tuğçe Özçelik, Rüya Kurtuluş, Feride Eralp, Fulya Dağlı and Tülay Korkutan from the women’s movement were taken under custody. At the police station, they refused the charges against them and to give any further statement and were released afterwards.
The other incident took place in Izmir where the police took rights defenders under custody. Izmir Women’s Platform (İzmir Kadın Platformu) wanted to march following their press statement on August. 5, 2020 but it was blocked by the police. After the harsh police intervention, 15 women and LGBTI+ activist İsmail Temel were taken under custody by the police. İsmail Temel suffered an epilepsy attack during his arrest on the street following the protest.
A week later, Istanbul Convention defenders gathered in Ankara. On August 13, 2020, protesters wanted to make a “human chain for life”. 30 women, among whom were activists and journalists, were taken under custody following the police intervention in the demonstration. At the police station, necessary actions were taken for the “violation of the law 2911 and resisting against the orders of the police”. They were released afterwards.
On August 18, 2020, an indictment against three women defending Istanbul Convention was revealed. The indictment was presented to Chief Public Prosecutor of Istanbul by Adem Çevik, the President of Adalet Platformu (Justice Platform) and Family Congress of Turkey (Türkiye Aile Meclisi), against the President of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) Women’s Branch Aylin Nazlıaka; Representative of Turkey at GREVIO, which monitors prevention of violence against women, and former Justice and Development Party (AKP) MP and Deputy Minister Prof. Dr. Aşkın Asan and the President of the Democracy Platform (Demokrasi Platformu) and attorney-at-law Kezban Hatemi. Adem Çevik claimed that the Convention was a “project to deprave the [concept of] family” and that he suffered pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages. He requested that the aforementioned women would be charged with: “provoking the public to hatred, hostility or degrading; insult, calumny and hate crime; committing crimes via media; prevention of the exercise of freedom of belief, thought and conviction; successive offences; jointly committed offences; crimes against humanity, and insulting the President of the Republic”.
The women who were taken custody in Beşiktaş, Istanbul on July 26, 2020, received notices for an administrative fine on September 20, 2020. Beşiktaş Governorship fined them 789 TL each for violating the Public Health Law No: 1593, which lays out precautions to be taken against Covid-19. Rights defenders objected to paying the aforementioned fines but it was refused.
Women in Mersin have also been fined numerous times from the Misdemeanor Law and the Sanitary Law for their actions regarding the Istanbul Convention and femicides since May 2020. The total amount of fines was close to 70 thousand liras as of October 2020. Mersin Women’s Platform started a legal process with the support of female lawyers from Mersin Bar Association Women’s Rights Center. To bring the subject to Turkey’s agenda, on 15 October 2020, they started a social media campaign using hashtag ‘CezalarKadınlarıYıldıramaz’.
On 22 October 2020, Dicle Amed Women’s Platform (DAKP) came together for Melek Aslan, who was murdered by her brother in Diyarbakır. The police asked them to lower the placards saying ‘Apply the Istanbul Convention’. The women were told that “it has nothing to do with the issue” as a reason and they were not allowed to make a statement without removing all the placards regarding the Istanbul Convention.
The debate on the annulment of the Istanbul Convention, which is the target of conservatives and also causes a difference of opinion within the AKP, reached its peak with Erdoğan’s visit to the Chairman of the High Advisory Board of the Saadet Party, Oğuzhan Asiltürk, on January 7, 2021.
In the night of March 19, 2021 a presidential decree published in the Official Gazette and Turkey was withdrawn from Istanbul Convention. The very next day, women were in the streets of Turkey to protest the decree. Human rights organizations, made statements that they do not recognize the decree.
The address of the demonstrations in Ankara was Kızılay. While the police did not allow the peaceful gathering, some women were detained from the group.
Mersin Women’s Platform was also on the street for a peaceful protest on Saturday, March 20th. Members of the platform were again fined at the upper limit for violating the General Hygiene Law. Six women were fined 21.598 TL in total. In their second march, the women disclosed the economic violence inflicted by the Mersin police by saying “Take your hand out of my wallet”.
On March 22, 2021, We Will Stop Femicide Platform (KCDP) gathered for a sit-in protest in Taksim (Istanbul). The police, who wanted them to disperse, blockaded the women with vehicles and barricades, cut off their relations with the public, and intervened after a while and ended the action. The police wanted to detain women, including KCDP General Secretary Fidan Ataselim and members of the platform, but were later released.
On April 9, 2021, the police intervened against the women who came together in Tokat with the call of the KCDP. Seven people were detained on the grounds of “demonstrating and marching without permission” before the protest started.