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 Simla Sunay 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.
May 11, 2021, when the 10th anniversary of the convention will be celebrated, coincided with the curfew restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic across the country. Despite this, attempts were made to make statements that supported the convention in small groups. Three women from the Apply the Istanbul Convention Campaign Group were blocked and detained by the police during their statement in Taksim Square. The women were released the same day.
The trial of 33 women who protested in Ankara on 5 August 2020 and were taken into custody, started on 7 June 2021 at the 28th Criminal Court of First Instance. Prison sentences of 1 year, 6 months to 3 years are demanded for the crime of 'opposing the Law on Demonstrations and Marches No. 2911'. Before the hearing, a call was made to the courthouse. Many women who wanted to make a press statement were detained and released on the same day. In the second hearing held on November 26, 2021, the presiding judge gave additional time for the defendants who could not attend the hearing, and requested that an expert be appointed to chronologically examine the footage of the action held by the Ankara Police. The police officers who were in the courtroom, although they were not parties to the case file, were removed from the courtroom at the request of the lawyers. The next hearing is on March 23, 2022.
The first hearing of the trial in which 18 women detained during the demonstration in İzmir Alsancak were tried was held on February 10, 2022, at the 44th Criminal Court of First Instance of İzmir Courthouse. Before the hearing, the Istanbul Convention is Ours, We Don't Give Up Izmir Campaign Group made a press statement in front of the courthouse. Some of the women who were tried for the crimes of "organizing unlawful meetings or demonstrations" and "preventing the public official from doing his duty" were present at the hearing. Expressing that they used their constitutional rights to defend the Istanbul Convention, the women emphasized that the convention was the guarantee of women's life and they were there to defend life. The police officer who gave his statement at the hearing claimed that he had been beaten and said that he had also complained about 18 people on trial in the case. The court adjourned the case to 13 May 2022 in order to examine the images and complete the missing statements.
There was no acquittal at the hearing on May 13, 2022. The court board demanded that the defendants, whose statements were not taken, be brought.
33 women and LGBTI+ who were tried in Ankara 28th Criminal Court of First Instance were acquitted on 23 March 2022.
In Mersin, fines of nearly 120 thousand liras in total for nearly 20 demonstrations were considered as a violation of rights by the Constitutional Court in August 2022. After the Constitutional Court decision, Mersin Criminal Judgeships of Peace began to overturn the previous decisions.
On 8 July 2020, 7 women and LGBTI+ members of Kırkyama Women's Solidarity and FeminAmfi, who hung banners at the Provincial Directorate of Family, Labor and Social Services building in Istanbul, were tried on multiple charges, including "damaging public property". The 6. hearing of the case was seen at the Istanbul 23rd Criminal Court of First Instance on February 2, 2023. The court rejected the defendant's lawyer's request for the resolution of the images submitted to the file regarding the sexual assault committed by the police during detention, which the witness heard in the 4th hearing also mentioned, on the grounds that "it would not bring any innovation to the file". Deciding to send the file to the prosecution to prepare its opinion on the merits, the court adjourned the case to 16 May 2023.
The second hearing of Sema Barbaros, the Istanbul Provincial Chairperson of the Labour Party, the forum participants Rüya Kurtuluş and Feride Eralp, against whom a lawsuit was filed after the forum held in Istanbul Beşiktaş Abbasağa Park in July 2020, was held on April 11, 2023. The women, who were prosecuted at the Istanbul 47th Criminal Court of First Instance on the charge of "organizing, leading and participating in illegal meetings and demonstration marches", made a joint defense. After the defenses, the court adjourned the hearing to October 12, 2023 for the prosecutor's opinion to be taken.
Eight women, who were battered while making a press statement before the trial in which 33 women were tried for the action "We do not give up on the Istanbul Convention", were acquitted at the hearing of the trial on June 7, 2023. Eight women were on trial at the Ankara 53rd Criminal Court of First Instance on the charge of "opposing the Law on Meetings and Demonstrations No. 2911" and the case was known as the T-shirt case in the public.
- You can follow the developments since 20 March 2021 on the chronology (in Turkish) prepared by the Women For Women's Human Rights (WWHR) - New Ways Association.