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Turkey: Drop Charges Against Transgender Rights Defenders

Five Activists Assaulted by Police, then Charged With Resisting Arrest

Prosecutors should investigate the attacks against five transgender rights activists by police in Ankara and drop all charges against the activists, five human rights organizations said today. In a letter to Turkey's Interior and Justice ministers, the rights organizations said that the police officers responsible for the attack should be held accountable and called for an end to violence against toward transgender people.

The five activists from the Ankara-based transgender rights organization Pembe Hayat were arbitrarily detained and beaten by police officers on May 17, 2010. Following a familiar pattern in Turkey, the five were speedily charged with resisting the police, before the prosecutor had concluded an investigation into their complaint of ill-treatment. Their trial is set for October 21.  If convicted, they face up to three years in prison.  

"Police ought to protect transgender people and their advocates, not attack them," said Hossein Alizadeh, Middle East and North Africa regional coordinator at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. "When police turn into perpetrators, it becomes painfully clear that official apathy allows leeway for attacks on transgender people."

The letter to the Justice and Interior ministers was signed by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), Human Rights Watch, COC Netherlands, GATE - Global Advocates for Trans Equality, and the European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans & Intersex Association (ILGA-Europe).

Four police officers from the Esat Police Station stopped the car the in which the activists were riding at about 10:30 p.m. on May 17 and accused them of intending to commit sex work.  The women -Yesim (Duru) Tatlıoğlu, Buse (Bülent) Kılıçkaya, Turkan (Deniz) Kücükkoçak, Selay (Derya) Tunç, and Eser (Nehir) Ulus - phoned for help, prompting 25 local human rights observers to go to the scene. The police forced the five activists out of the car, beat them with batons, kicked them and sprayed them with tear gas. Witnesses told the human rights organizations that the police screamed at the activists, "[f]aggots, next time we will kill you!" 

"The Turkish government is turning us trans people into criminals, for no other reason than existing. Being trans in Turkey means being judged and condemned just because of what we are," said Mauro Cabral, co-director of Global Advocates for Trans Equality (GATE). "We are the crime: the government abuses us and forces us to live and die outside of the law, instead of protecting us."

Police handcuffed the women, forced them to kneel, and beat their heads and legs while one policeman told them their activism would not protect them. All five women, visibly bruised, were forced into a police van and taken to the police station. Police held them in custody until the next morning. They were officially charged on June 18, 2010.

"In a situation of clear discrimination, the justice system is treating the victims as attackers," said Boris Dittrich, acting director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights program at Human Rights Watch. "Turkey needs police who are willing to protect all its people, including transgender individuals."

In their letter, the human rights groups noted that these events are part of a larger pattern of violence and discrimination against transgender people in Turkey. The organizations asked the government to repeal laws, like the Law of Misdemeanors (No. 5326), that facilitate violence against transgender people and instead to put in place effective legal protections against discrimination.

"We are outraged by the unbridled transphobia in a country aspiring to EU membership and cannot accept the repeated unpunished murders and abuse of the transgender population," said Koen van Dijk, executive director of COC Netherlands. "Turkey should uphold its national obligations to provide adequate protection to all people in Turkey, including the transgender population."

Nine transgender people have been killed in Turkey in the last 20 months alone. The most recent murder was on September 19, when a 28-year-old transgender woman, known as Irem Okan (Mesut Şaban) was stabbed to death in her apartment in Bursa. On February 16, in the Fatih area of Istanbul, an unknown person stabbed Aycan (Fevzi) Yener 17 times and slit her throat. On February 8, an unknown person stabbed to death 35-year-old Derya Y. in her home in the Altındağ district of Antalya.

"Turkey should improve the situation for its trans population and develop a strategy to protect their lives," said Evelyne Paradis, executive director of ILGA-Europe. "Police forces should address their current malpractices and instead foster a culture of working with vulnerable groups."

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