Urgent Interventions

Women’s Rights Defenders in the Crosshairs

Paris-Geneva-Dublin, December 20, 2019 - TheObservatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of theInternational Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World OrganisationAgainst Torture (OMCT), along with partner organisation Front Line Defenders,express their utmost concern over the increasing harassment and stigmatisationof women’s rights defenders in Turkey.

On November 25, 2019, hundreds of women gathered inIstiklal Street in Istanbul, under heavy police presence, to marchon the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violenceagainst Women. Although the demonstration was initiallybanned by the District Governorate of Beyoglu, following the meetings betweenthe Istanbul 25 November Women Platform and the District Governorate, thedemonstration was eventually authorised at Tunel Square, at the end of IstiklalStreet. Around 7:00 PM, the protesters gathered in the Square while IstiklalStreet was blocked by the police 140 metres down the square, preventingprotesters from walking down the street. Following a press statement, and asthe crowd was preparing to leave the area, the police attacked the peacefulprotesters with tear gas and plastic bullets. The Police Directorate stated inits press release that “there was a group of some 50 extremist and LGBTI people in the crowd, who refused to leavethe area in defiance of police orders and who pushed the police barricade”. Thestatement also added that “the group was dispersed by shooting tear gas towardsthe ground, which” - according to the authorities - “was a proportionateintervention”, and that “no one was taken into custody”. The Ministry ofInterior Affairs also denied the accusations of police violence against womenprotesters.

On December 8, 2019, a group of women gathered inKadikoy, Istanbul for a remake of the dance performance “ARapist in Your Path”, staged by the Chileangroup Las Tesis to protest violence against women. At this occasion too, thepolice used force to disperse the crowd on the grounds that the demonstrationwas “illegal” and that the lyrics “the rapist is you, the murderer is you, thepolice, the judges, the state, the president” constituted a crime. Six women’srights defenders were taken into police custody and released the following dayon probation. Two of them reported bruises as a consequence of allegedexcessive use of force by the police while being taken into custody. All sixfaced the accusations of “defamation of the Turkish Republic and itsinstitutions”, “insulting the President” and “violating the Law on PublicAssemblies and Demonstrations”. On 16 December, after contesting the decisionof conditional release, women gathered in front of the Anadolu Courthouse for apress statement, but they were again prevented from doing so by the police.

Similar demonstrations have since taken place inAnkara, Izmir and other parts of Istanbul. On December 12, 2019, women whogathered in Ankara to perform “A Rapist in Your Path” were dispersed by thepolice, and nine women and a journalist were taken into police custody. Allnine were individually fined TRY 320 (approximately EUR 50) pursuant to theMisdemeanour Law. Additionally, on December 14, 2019, women deputies from theRepublican People’s Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi - CHP) organised aperformance in the National Assembly to show solidarity with the women’s rightsdefenders who were targeted because of the performance. The Ministry ofInterior Affairs criticised the deputies saying that it is not necessary toaccuse the police, the judges, the state, the president of being “rapist(s)”and “murderer(s)”. Finally, on December 16, 2019, an investigation was launchedagainst approximately 20 women, who participated in a performance on December15 in Izmir, on the grounds of “defamation of the Turkish Republic and itsinstitutions” and “violating the Law on Public Assemblies and Demonstrations”.Within the scope of this investigation, 20 women were taken into police custodyand released after their testimony was taken.

In addition to the use of force by the police against peaceful protesters, women’srights defenders and organisations also face other types of harassment. InNovember 2019, the AntakyaPurple Solidarity Women’s Association (Antakya Mor Dayanışma Kadın Derneği), a women’s rights organisation founded in Antakya in2014 which advocates against gender-based violence, organises awareness-raisingevents, and follows gender-based violence cases, was subjected to a TRY 51,168fine (approximately EUR 7,730) for allegedly “organising trainings withoutpermission”. Subsequently, their premises were sealed without anynotice on this particular measure. Previously, in August 2019, officials from the DistrictDirectorate of National Education accompanied by the police had visited theorganisation’s premises and takenpictures of the voluntary activities taking place in their premises, without awarrant. The women and their children, taking part in the activities, wereasked questions on whether they made any payments to the organisation. Women’s rights defenders areconcerned that the police’s presence in their building and their harassment wasmainly aimed at stigmatising them in the eyes of the community, which they workin close contact with, and obstructing their work. The Association filed alawsuit to challenge the administrative fine, and the case is pending.

These episodes add to previous instanceswhere the police reportedly used force against women’s rights defenders, e.g.during the peaceful demonstrations in Istanbul on March 8, 2019, InternationalWomen’s Day, and November 25, 2018, International Day for the Elimination ofViolence against Women. More broadly, since the state of emergency was declaredfollowing the failed coup in July 2016, attacks on women human rights defendersand women’s rights organisations have gained momentum. Several women’s rightsassociations have been closed down by emergency decrees, particularly the onesled by Kurdish women in the South East of Turkey, and their assets confiscated.In addition, the trustees appointed by the central government to the SouthEastern municipalities held by the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HalklarınDemokratik Partisi – HDP), shut down many women consultancy centres in thosemunicipalities. Today, many women human rights defenders, journalists,academics and elected representatives in Turkey still remain in detentionpending trial and/or face judicial harassment. In November 2019 alone, at leastthree women journalists were arrested, including Mss. Ruken Demir and SadiyeEser from MezopotamyaNews Agency, aswell as Melike Aydın from Jinnews.

Our organisations are deeplyconcerned about the ongoing harassment and stigmatisation of women’s rightsdefenders in Turkey, which takes place against the backdrop of a seriousdeterioration of the rule of law in the country in recent years and anincreasingly shrinking space for civil society.

We urge the Government of Turkey totake the necessary steps to address the systematic violations of women’s rightsin Turkey. We emphasise that women’s rights defenders are key actors for ademocratic and inclusive debate on women’s rights, and that they must beincluded in the dialogue. We call on the Government of Turkey to refrain fromcriminalising, or otherwise obstructing the work of women’s rights defenders.We also call upon the same authorities to refrain from suppressing free speech,including when this is directed at expressing legitimate criticism ofgovernmental institutions, and to recognise and take their demands intoaccount, including on the effective implementation of the Istanbul Conventionon Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence.

We also urge the Government ofTurkey to respect the right to freedom of assembly and association as wellas freedom of expression and media freedom, which are protected both by theConstitution of Turkey and international instruments to which Turkey is a party,including the European Convention of Human Rights. We more generally call uponthe Turkish authorities to ensure a conducive environment for human rightsdefenders, including women’s rights defenders, in Turkey, and to recognisetheir fundamental role of watchdog in a democratic society.

We more generally urge theinternational community to take a firm stance against the ongoingdeterioration of the rule of law and human rights, including women’s rights,and a shrinking civic space in Turkey and to condemn any attack against humanrights defenders, including women’s rights defenders, in their diplomaticrelations with the Turkish government at both the bilateral level and inmultilateral fora.

Sign up now

Subscribe to our latest news & alerts