Protests for Istanbul Convention in Turkey: 178 detained, 23 faced charges

The ‘Women's Social Justice Group’ has presented a report on rights violations during protests for the Istanbul Convention. According to the report, 178 women and LGBTIQ people were detained in eleven months, and charges have been brought against 23.

At least 178 women and LGBTIQ people have been arrested in Turkey within a year during protests for the preservation of the Istanbul Convention. This is according to a report presented by the ‘Women's Social Justice Group’ in Ankara on Friday. Two of the women involved are journalists Habibe Eren and Öznur Değer, correspondents for the all-female news agency JinNews. Preliminary proceedings against 23 women are pending in court.

The report, titled "Violations and Impunity in Actions for the Istanbul Convention," covers the period from Aug. 5, 2020, to July 1, 2021. At the announcement at the Mor Mekan Feminist Meeting Center, lawyer Irmak Bakır described Turkey's withdrawal from the convention, which was drawn up by the Council of Europe in 2011 as an international treaty intended to create a Europe-wide legal framework to prevent and combat violence against women, as a "concrete step in a government offensive against the struggle for women's liberation." The agreement is considered a milestone in the fight against patriarchal violence and commits signatory states to combat gender-based violence and improve prevention and assistance services. The country's withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, ordered by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was officially completed on July 1. However, there had already been initial hints the previous year.

Encirclement of rallies to make women 'invisible'

"Women and LGBTIQ+ who campaigned for the preservation of the Istanbul Convention and against its withdrawal, respectively, under the slogan 'We are not giving up on the Istanbul Convention,' have become the target of police violence, arrests, investigations and charges. In addition, they have been affected by cuts in their stipends," Bakır said. The most common form of state repression has been the encirclement of rallies and demonstrations, she noted. Especially in cities such as Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Mersin, Eskişehir and Tokat. The security forces are particularly concerned with making women and their protests "invisible," the lawyer continued.

In the Turkish capital Ankara alone, eight out of eighteen actions by women and LGBTIQ people carried out during the reporting period were dispersed by police using massive force and tear gas, Irmak Bakır said. "Moreover, in seven of these protests, a total of 106 arrests have been made, resulting in the restriction of fundamental rights. Two other women from the region were arrested for placarding actions and posts on Twitter," the statement added.

Police in Istanbul also regularly cracked down on actions for the preservation of the convention. A forum registered by the "Campaign Group to Implement the Istanbul Convention" in Abbasağa Park in Beşiktaş last July, for example, was banned at short notice. The women staged a march to the Barbaros Square where they carried out their forum as planned and held a substantive debate. In the end, eight activists were taken into custody.

In Izmir, a total of 21 women were violently arrested in August 2020 during a protest rally against the banning of a demonstration for the Istanbul Convention. Eighteen of them were charged with an alleged violation of the Turkish Assembly Law. In cities such as Mersin, Adana and Hatay, on the other hand, the method of fining people in connection with actions against the withdrawal from the convention has become a lucrative source of income for AKP municipalities. Activists from the Mersin Women's Platform in particular have been literally inundated with fines for more than a year, the sums of which have reached utopian proportions. So far, fines of around 128,000 TL, the equivalent of about 12,844 euros, have been imposed.

There are realities that cannot be suppressed by violence

"The government is waging an offensive against the women's movement. The state violence that accompanies it is widespread, systematic, and multifaceted. However, women and LGBTIQ+ always manage to successfully break the siege on our living spaces," Irmak Bakır concluded. In addition, the lawyer announced her intention to continue the "resistance for the punishment of the perpetrators of violence" - meaning the security forces - with the same determination as the commitment against the judicial authorities, which Bakır accuses of denying freedom of assembly and expression and thus "undermining fundamental rights." "There are realities that cannot be suppressed by violence. The annulment of the Istanbul Convention is null and void for us. Women and LGBTIQ+ will not let single-minded men determine their future."