x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Life sentence for husband who killed wife is triumph for Turkish women

Activists hope sentencing of man who beat spouse for years marks turnaround in country where four out of 10 women are abused.

ISTANBUL // A guilty verdict against a Turkish man who killed his wife after beating her for years has given hope to women's rights activists who say the police and the judiciary need to do more to protect women from domestic violence.

A court in Ankara last week sentenced Istikbal Yetkin, 46, the former husband of Ayse Pasali, 42, a secretary in the Turkish capital, to life in prison for killing his ex-wife in December 2010. The couple had divorced last June. A newspaper picture of the swollen and bruised face of Pasali taken when she went to court in Ankara in 2009 after a beating by her husband, has become a symbol for the fight against domestic violence in Turkey.

Activists hope the case will mark a turnaround in a country where polls say four out of 10 women are beaten or otherwise physically abused or threatened by their husbands. On average, one woman is killed by a man in Turkey every day, according to police figures for the first seven months of last year.

The Global Gender Gap Report, an index by the World Economic Forum measuring the extent of equality between the sexes in countries across the world, Turkey ranked 126 on a list of 134 countries in 2010.

Burcu Yetkin, the oldest of three daughters of Istikbal Yetkin and Ayse Pasali, said after the verdict outside the court, said: "I am happy that he got the sentence he deserved. Victory is ours. I hope this will serve as an example, so it happens to no one else."

Standing behind Ms Yetkin, activists held up signs with the infamous picture of Ms Pasali's battered face and slogans that read: "The state is a partner in crime in this murder." News reports said the verdict was met with applause by members of women's rights groups in the courtroom.

Elif Kabadayi, a lawyer for the victim's family, said that she wanted judges and prosecutors across the country to take note. "I hope the decision of this court will serve as an example for other trials dealing with violence against women," she said.

Aysa Pasali started considering a divorce in 2006 after 18 years of marriage because of beatings by her husband, but decided to stay with him because of the children. Mr Yetkin was warned several times by the police and received a suspended sentence once for threatening to kill his mother-in-law, but was never arrested, Ms Kabadayi said.

After Ms Pasali finally divorced her husband in June last year, she said in a complaint to court that Mr Yetkin continued to threaten her and tried to abduct her, but the authorities turned down her request for police protection last November. Less than a month later, on December 7, Mr Yetkin killed his ex-wife with 11 knife stabs when she was on her way to work. In court, Mr Yetkin said he regretted that he had killed his wife.

Ms Kabadayi, the lawyer, said the guilty verdict against Mr Yetkin was significant because the court handed down a sentence of life in prison without parole, the highest possible sentence under Turkish law. In many other cases of violence against women, defendants benefited from reduced sentences based on perceived "provocations" by the victim or because of good conduct while in custody, she said.

Given the "mentality problem" in Turkey's judiciary, the verdict in the Pasali case was "a sign for a new beginning", Ms Kabadayi said. She added there were signs that judges in Ankara had already started to change.

"Only 20 days after Ayse Pasali was murdered, a request for police protection by another woman came before the judge who had rejected Pasali's request," the lawyer said. "He immediately ordered police protection."

Ms Kabadayi is now taking the Pasali case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, where she will argue that the Turkish state failed to protect Ayse Pasali's right to live because authorities turned a blind eye to the woman's repeated complaints to the police and the judiciary.

As a member of the Council of Europe, a human-rights bloc of 47 nations, Turkey is obliged to follow rulings from Strasbourg. In another prominent case of domestic violence in 2009, Turkey was ordered by the Strasbourg court to give police protection to a woman whose estranged husband had killed her mother and threatened to kill her as well.

Last week, the Council of Europe, during a ministerial meeting in Istanbul, presented a new convention for the prevention of violence against women. The agreement, which was immediately signed by Turkey and 11 other member states, calls for countries to provide shelter for women who flee their homes because of violence and to organise telephone help-lines.

Ms Kabadayi said the new convention would have an effect in Turkey. "The state does not want to be seen as backward in the international community." Media and society as a whole in Turkey had also become much more sensitive to the issue, she said. "Turkey will have to change."

tseibert@thenational.ae