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article imageTurkish pop star's case highlights violence against women

By Raziye Akkoc and Fulya Ozerkan in Istanbul (AFP)     Mar 7, 2019 in World

When Turkish pop star Sila told police she had been beaten by her partner, it was a rare moment in Turkish history: a celebrity breaking the silence on abuse.

And on Thursday the case went to court, with her boyfriend Ahmet Kural, a famous actor, accused of beating the singer in an incident in October.

The landmark trial opened in Istanbul a day before International Women's Day which will be marked across the country with marches and rallies.

At the first hearing, the singer, whose full name is Sila Gencoglu, accused her now ex-partner of attacking her during an argument over his "jealousy", an AFP correspondent said.

If convicted, Kural faces up to five years in jail for charges which include actual bodily harm, which the film and television actor denied in court on Thursday.

For Sila's lawyer, Rezan Epozdemir, her case is a powerful moment for Turkish women since victims do not usually come forward.

Rights groups say Turkish laws to help protect victims have improved. But traditional, patriarchal attitudes in this conservative society, as well as a lack of awareness, often prevent women from speaking out.

"It is extremely significant that a woman who experienced violence freely sought her rights and took legal action, and for her case to be at the centre of debate," Epozdemir told AFP.

- 440 women killed in 2018 -

Activists say the number of Turkish women murdered by their partners is rising and more of them are suffering physical or sexual abuse by partners or male relatives.

A Turkish 2014 government study found 38% of women had been subjected to either physical and/or sexu...
A Turkish 2014 government study found 38% of women had been subjected to either physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lives

In 2018, 440 women were killed in murders linked to their gender, according to the women's rights group "We Will Stop Femicide", compared with 210 in 2012.

But Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu on Wednesday suggested that data proved the number of women killed in Turkey had fallen since 2016.

In November, Soylu had said that 96,417 women had been victims of violence in the first 10 months of 2018.

Canan Gullu, who heads the Federation of Women's Associations of Turkey (TKDF), said after Sila's case became public, there were "many more calls" to their emergency hotline by victims who felt empowered by the singer's actions.

She said more women had become aware of their rights and of the law that protects them from violence.

- More shelters needed -

Turkey was the first country to ratify the 2011 Istanbul Convention, the world's most progressive binding accord to prevent and combat violence against women.

Another high-profile case is that of Sule Cet  a university student. Her face appeared on protest po...
Another high-profile case is that of Sule Cet, a university student. Her face appeared on protest posters after she was found dead last May. Two men are on trial for her sexual assault and murder

Feride Acar, a Turkish academic at Middle East Technical University (METU), who contributed to the text, said improvements had been made in Turkey, but more needed to be done to build on the convention's promise, including greater access to shelters.

Ankara-based lawyer Gunce Cetin, who advises victims of violence, said police officers were not always applying the law in practice.

"Sometimes police don't remind women they have a right to a lawyer. This is very valuable," she said.

Both Cetin and Acar said more training was needed for police and judiciary personnel involved in handling such cases.

- 'Nobody wants violence' -

Although there appears to be an increase in violence against women, Acar said "data is not really reliable and it's not there to cover all types and incidents of violence".

But Acar said more incidents were being reported in Turkey than before.

"Nobody wants violence against women, whether you are a conservative or a liberal," she said.

Rights groups say Turkish laws to help protect victims have advanced but traditional patriachal atti...
Rights groups say Turkish laws to help protect victims have advanced but traditional patriachal attitudes and lack of awareness often prevent women from speaking out

But conservative elements within Turkish society "do not see violence as a reflection of gender inequality", she explained, which creates problems in preventing violence.

The government insists violence against women is taken seriously, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lambasting it as a "betrayal of humanity".

But critics worry women's rights in general may be being eroded under Erdogan, who draws strong support from Turkey's religiously conservative sectors.

- Lower sentences -

One of the concerns for Cetin and rights activists is the application of leniency and lower sentences for good behaviour by those convicted of violence against women.

Activists also criticise attempts to discredit victims during trials by defendants' lawyers or the suspects in order to minimise the seriousness of crimes against women.

One high-profile case is that of Sule Cet, a university student found dead last May. Two men went on trial last month, accused of sexually assaulting then murdering her and murder. They claimed she had fallen from the 20th storey of an Ankara tower block.

The case caused a furore, especially one of the defendant's lawyers speculated that Cet was not a virgin.

Sila's lawyer also criticised some of the media for dishonest reporting of her case.

But Epozdemir remained optimistic: "I hope the outcome of the case will reveal the truth and a decision will be given in the interest of justice."

The next hearing in Sila's case will be on April 22, local media reported.

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