x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Turkey fined for failing to protect woman

European court's conviction could turn out to be a watershed in a country where four out of 10 women reportedly suffer abuse.

ISTANBUL // In a debut that was inglorious but could yet turn out to be a watershed for women's rights in this country, Turkey this week became the first member state of the Council of Europe to have been convicted by the Council's court for failing to protect a woman from violent abuse by her former husband.

In the verdict, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, ordered Turkey to pay a total of ?36,500 (Dh187,748) in damages and expenses to Nahide Opuz, 37, from the city of Diyarbakir in Turkey's south-east. The court ruled unanimously that Turkey's judiciary and police had failed to protect Mrs Opuz from repeated assaults and threats by her former husband, Huseyin Opuz, despite numerous pleas for help by Mrs Opuz and despite the fact that Opuz killed her mother to prevent the two women from fleeing.

"I want to see an end to violence against women and I want the state, the judiciary and the police to take it seriously," Mrs Opuz said through her lawyer, Mesut Bestas. Mrs Opuz still feels threatened by her former husband and does not want to speak to the media herself, Mr Bestas said in a telephone interview. She wants to lead a "free life, far away from worries", the lawyer quoted her as saying. Mr Bestas said his client had not received police protection.

According to a statement by the Strasbourg court, the couple got married in 1995. They had three children. Soon after the wedding, Mrs Opuz said she and her mother were beaten and threatened by her husband. Opuz was repeatedly remanded in custody, but always released. Charges against him were dropped when the two women withdrew their complaints, apparently under pressure from Opuz, the court said.

Although Mrs Opuz and her mother told the authorities their lives were in danger and although Opuz was repeatedly questioned over the years, he was never held in custody for a long period. In Oct 2001 he stabbed his wife seven times with a knife and in March 2002 he shot and killed his mother-in-law as the two women were preparing to run away. He told police "his honour had been at stake", the court said. He was later convicted of murder, but he was again released pending an appeal. Mrs Opuz filed for divorce after the killing.

Seven years after Mrs Opuz first applied to Strasbourg, the court ruled that Turkey's judiciary and police had ignored the fact that "further violence, indeed a lethal attack, had not only been possible but even foreseeable". Rejecting Turkey's argument that Mrs Opuz had withdrawn her complaints several times, the court said that given the husband's history of violence, authorities should have made sure "that the prosecution continue in the public interest".

In one of the most damning passages of the verdict, the court accused Turkish authorities of "passive" behaviour. Judicial decisions "had been ineffective and even disclosed a certain degree of tolerance" towards the violence against the two women, the court said. As a member of the Council of Europe, an organisation of 47-member countries founded in 1949 to develop and uphold democratic and human rights principles, Turkey is obliged to abide by the rulings from Strasbourg.

The verdict and the public humiliation for Turkey, a country that sees itself as a modern republic with equal rights for men and women but is plagued by high rates of domestic violence, made front-page news throughout the country. According to a government-sponsored study released this year, four out of 10 women in Turkey say they are victims of physical domestic violence. The decision of the seven-judge panel in Strasbourg was like a "slap in the face" for Turkey, the Yeni Safak newspaper said. Canan Arin, a lawyer specialising in cases of domestic violence, said she was happy about the verdict, but felt ashamed at the same time. "I am ashamed because the Turkish republic is a country that does not attach great value to human life, to the life of women," she told the NTV news channel.

Pinar Ilkkaracan, a founding member of the Association for Human Rights for Women - New Solutions, a pressure group, told NTV the verdict had the potential to change the way Turkish authorities deal with cases of domestic violence. "Women who experience such a [violent] behaviour and are confronted with indifference when they turn to the authorities now have a weapon in their hands." Remziye Tanrikulu, a women's rights lawyer in Mrs Opuz's hometown of Diyarbakir, also said the Strasbourg verdict was a "very important decision". Speaking in a telephone interview, Mrs Tanrikulu said Turkey had improved its laws against domestic violence, but there were problems with the application of these laws. "After this decision, there is pressure from Strasbourg," she said. The justice ministry in Ankara started an inquiry to establish what went wrong in the case of Mrs Opuz, newspapers reported yesterday.

But Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, criticised the verdict. The decision was "shameful", Mr Erdogan told NTV in a live interview yesterday. He said it was wrong for the court to condemn the whole of Turkey for a single case and that Turkey's law enforcement agency was trying to fight domestic violence. "We have laws," he said, adding that no country could guarantee the safety of its citizens "100 per cent".

As the debate continued, Turkish media yesterday reported another suspected case of deadly domestic violence. Fadile Karatoprak, 23, from the capital Ankara, was found strangled in her house, the reports said. Mrs Karatoprak had divorced her husband shortly before her death. Her three-year-old son was reported to have told police that "my mum was killed by my dad". tseibert@thenational.ae