Amid a culture of impunity, courts protect people in positions of power, lawyers say

Photo: anayasa.gov.tr

Lawyers involved in legal proceedings concerning vulnerable communities in Turkey have said the judiciary often protects people in power by granting them impunity.

Speaking to the Bianet news website, lawyers for gender-based violence and hate-crime victims and workers involved in occupational accidents said the people responsible were seldom held accountable by the justice system.

Lawyer Kerem Dikmen, who represents the LGBTQ+ community, said in most cases even the police did not take complaints seriously. “Most of my clients are victims of discrimination and hate crimes, but when they go to the police to file a complaint they often find themselves answering questions that should be addressed to the perpetrator,” he said. “The police ask them why they were in a certain place at a certain time, or question them about their social media content.”

According to Dikmen LGBTQ+ people are expected to stay silent when faced with discrimination or violence. “If they resist or talk back to the perpetrator, the LGBTQ+ are often seen as bringing violence on themselves,” said Dikmen.

He added that there was a sense of “normalcy” when it came to violence against the LGBTQ+ community. Even during court proceedings, the prosecutor focuses on extenuating circumstances and the perpetrators of discrimination and violence often get minimum penalties.

Lawyer Fatoş Hacivelioğlu said this was no different when it came to femicide and domestic violence cases. “Women are expected to be silent and subservient; therefore, if they are subjected to domestic violence it is regarded as their fault,” she said.

Hacivelioğlu said women were not effectively protected by the police if they filed a complaint against their husbands or partners. Victims often say Turkish authorities are ineffective in combatting violence. They say their complaints to the police about abusive partners go unanswered and are ignored.

Again, many perpetrators of femicide are given minimum prison sentences due to extenuating circumstances. However, women who harm men in self-defense are given maximum prison sentences.

In a highly publicized case Çilem Doğan, who shot and killed her husband with his own gun, was sentenced to 15 years in prison. In her defense Doğan said her husband had tied her to the bed, stripped her naked and abused her the whole night, threatening to kill her in front of her two daughters. She finally managed to untie herself and killed her husband while struggling to escape.

Doğan had been abused by her husband for years before the incident. He also made her work as a prostitute. Doğan had reported her husband to the police several times, but despite restraining orders the abuse did not stop. None of the complaints Doğan filed against her husband resulted in an effective solution.

Lawyers pointed out that women and LGBTQ+ were not the only ones affected by impunity. Migrants, workers and minorities also find themselves helpless when confronted with injustice.

Berrin Demir said workers involved in occupational accidents were often not compensated for their injuries. “Employers seldom take necessary precautions to protect their workers, and in the case of an accident they are not held accountable,” she said. “It can take years for a family to claim damages, that is, if they can at all.”

Occupational accidents are a serious problem in Turkey as reports revealed that 347 people died in workplace accidents in the first quarter of this year.

A total of 28,380 people have died in workplace accidents in Turkey since the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002.

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