Murder of women in TurkeyFemicide requires harsher sentencing
Nazmiye Koyuncu was just 19 years old when her life was brutally cut short. The young mother was spending New Year's Eve 2019 with her two-month-old baby in her own flat in Ankara, Turkey, when Ramazan D., a relative, gained entry and attacked her.
The young woman tried to flee, but was unable to do so. D. attacked her with a knife and stabbed her 15 times. Nazmiye Koyuncu died at the scene. The man did not give any information about his motive. The victim's family suspects that Koyuncu did not reciprocate D.'s advances, which subsequently led to the crime.
Two years later, D. was sentenced to life imprisonment for "intentional homicide". For the lawyers pursuing the accessory suit, this was an unsatisfactory verdict: they demanded a conviction based on the criminal offence of "inflicting egregious violence or torture".
This is because, unless the crime is deemed such an offence, the maximum sentence in Turkey – even for life – is 24 years imprisonment. With good behaviour, an offender can therefore hope to be released after ten to 15 years.
15 stab wounds not enough, said the court
By contast, the offence of "egregious violence or torture" results in an enhanced life sentence. Those convicted spend 30 years behind bars; early release by means of a pardon is ruled out. Women's rights activists and lawyers are therefore fighting for the criminal offence to be applied to femicides, not least to act as a greater deterrent to potential perpetrators.
A difficult undertaking: in the case of Nazmiye Koyuncu, who was stabbed to death, the court refused to follow the reasoning of the relatives' lawyers. According to the court, the number of stab wounds did not demonstrate that the murder was committed egregiously, said the lawyer for the family, Gulsum Serttas. To her, this is incomprehensible. To this day, the lawyer is fighting for a conviction for "inflicting egregious violence or torture".
According to the Turkish Women's Association, at least 300 women were killed in Turkey in 2020 alone. Since the courts do not keep statistics, non-governmental organisations rely on police reports and statements by the victims' families.
Even without consulting the official figures, Turkish experts are certain that the number of femicides has been increasing for years. Moreover, the deeds are becoming increasingly cruel; women are repeatedly tortured to death or brutally murdered. Frequently, this is not taken sufficiently into account when sentencing the perpetrators, they criticise.
Moreover, because Turkey has revoked the so-called Istanbul Convention following a decision by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, there is currently increasing controversy following every verdict relating to the murder of a woman. The Council of Europe Convention of 2011 aims to curb violence against women, especially domestic violence, and to strengthen equality between men and women. However, in the summer of 2021, Erdogan sealed Turkey's withdrawal.
When is it a "killing by brutal means"?
In some Supreme Court decisions, the number of stab wounds has played a role in the conviction of "killing by brutal means". In other rulings, the decisive factor was that the victim had "acid thrown in her face" or that the perpetrator took "pleasure in the victim's death".
For lawyer Serttas, this view is not differentiated enough: for example, the number of stab wounds should not be the only factor, but rather the emphasis should be on the cruelty of the act itself. As in the case she represents: "The murderer killed Nazmiye next to her two-month-old baby in her house. Nazmiye died from 15 stab wounds and numerous other cuts to her body," said Serttas.
This type of criminal offence has also failed to be applied in other notorious cases, despite the extreme brutality of the perpetrator. Ayse Tuba Arslan was attacked by her ex-husband Yalcin O. with a butcher's knife in 2019. The young woman fled into the street and fell into a coma with severe craniocerebral trauma. After 44 days, Arslan succumbed to the consequences of the attack.
In the first instance, the court sentenced O. to an increased prison term of 30 years for "intentional homicide with egregious agony". Later the sentence was overturned, since it was felt the victim had "provoked" him. Ayse Tuba Arslan is said to have had an affair with another man, according to an analysis conducted on her mobile phone data.
The lawyer of the Arslan family, Funda Guney, is critical of the fact that the verdict was overturned: "We believe that the crime was premeditated and committed with egregious intent," the lawyer argues. O. stabbed all vital body parts. This was shown by the state of the dead woman and the traces found at the crime scene, which demonstrated a "high degree of torture".
For lawyer Gulsum Serttas, too, the question remains as to how brutal an act would have to be for torture characteristics to be taken into account when sentencing. In many cases, it is only the judges who decide. In Turkish women's murder trials, it is extremely rare for expert witnesses or psychologists capable of assessing the manner of the killing professionally to be consulted.
© Deutsche Welle 2021
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