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REPORT: Political Persecution and Intersections of Violence against Women in Turkey: Stories of forced migrants

This is a civic initiation and a pioneering report to document mass human rights violations, discrimination, political persecution that recent immigrants from Turkey to different countries and Europe have witnessed. This report focuses on women witnesses of the current political persecution in Turkey. Following her-story perspective this report presents a glimpse of mass human rights violations that thousands are currently going through in Turkey from the lenses of female survivors.

This short report aims to:

  • To underline massive extend of political persecution and human rights violations in Turkey affecting thousands of people including women and children

  • To integrate gender aspect to studies on torture and ill-treatment and violence against women in Turkey under detention / imprisonment

  • To voice the stories of forced migrants of Turkey to create better understanding of their presence in Europe

The anti-torture/violence against women legal framework

Turkey ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (hereinafter, the Convention against Torture) on 2 August 1988. Upon ratification Turkey recognized the competence of the Committee against Torture to receive and process individual communications under articles 21 and 22 of the Convention against Torture.

Background on Political Persecution in Turkey

The state of emergency introduced in Turkey on 15 July 2016 in the aftermath of the attempted coup. Though emergency rule ended two years later, the Turkish parliament adopted a law furthering many elements of emergency rule for three more years. In the meantime, government abused fundamental freedoms such as dismissing thousands of public servants, prolonged detention periods, extending powers to government-appointed provincial governments or assigning trustees to thousands of private institutions.

Figure 1. Freedom in the World Aggregate Score by Years
Figure 1.webp
Source: Freedom House, 2019

In total, there are 10,285 women and 2,982 children under 18 years old are behind bars in Turkey. Current numbers of children stay beside their mothers in prisons are 780 (children under age 6). More babies are born in prison since Turkey continues to imprison pregnant women unlawfully. Prisons are overcrowded with an overall jail occupancy rate of 124 % since 2016 (Hurriyet Daily, 2019).

Last but not least, since 2016 hundreds of families from Turkey lost their lives in search of asylum through dangerous paths in Western migration routes. Currently Turkey also pushes hundreds of Syrians and asylum seekers from different countries forwards as a political move to dangerous migration routes.

Source: UN Women, 2019
Intersections of Violence against Women in Turkey
474 women had been killed in the year 2019 in Turkey!
We Will Stop Femicide Organization

Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of women is a fundamental violation of human rights and is absolutely and unreservedly prohibited under international law. In spite of the international legal prohibitions on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment along with growing attention for the past three decades women’s rights and the issue of gender-based violence has received, reality on the ground provides few signs for optimism. Women and girls continue to face high risks of becoming the victims of torture in many countries around the world, including Turkey.

Abolishment of Access to Basic Human Rights during Detention and Imprisonment Period

All of our respondents stated that they were not provided access to basic human rights during detention and imprisonment period including health service (when needed), food, sleep, water, sanitation, hygiene, education, socialization opportunities.

Abuses Regarding Legal Rights: Access to Lawyer, Presumption of Innocence, Principle of Individual Criminal Liability

All respondents confirmed that their access to lawyers, right to be informed about the charges against them were limited at differing levels. Presumption of innocence and principle of individual criminal liability are constantly ignored.

Wide human rights violations of political persecution address multiple opinion groups and thousands are convicted with alleged crimes for being terrorist. Immoderate power and charges are directed towards people even before their court or conviction. A pregnant woman could be target without any right to defend herself since herself and her sister was blamed of being terrorists.

Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV)

All imprisoned and detained respondents confirmed that when they are taken into custody or for imprisonment, they were taken into entrance check points with groups of other imprisoned women and subjected to whole body naked searches through commands “Sit down-stand up. Cough”. Even visitors were abused with naked searches and improper touching. This abuse included old, disabled or pregnant women without any exception. Their requests to use aprons were rejected during searches. Additionally other SGBV cases are recorded including, verbal, psychological, sexual abuse and improper touching. Some respondents stated that several state officers threatened them with sexual assault and rape. Şengül (37) tells how a prosecutor threatened them:

Physical, Verbal and Psychological Violence

Physical and psychological violence is used widely as forms of violence can be considered inhuman and degrading treatment to psychologically confront and humiliate prisoners. All respondents confirmed verbal and psychological violence enmeshed with psychical abuse in the form of shouting, humiliating, pulling, pushing was constant during their custody and imprisonment. Some also experienced these violations when visiting their relatives disregarding human dignity.

Abuses regarding Rights of the Child

Abuses on child rights appeared during our interviews as an additional topic, which was not intended to be covered in this report. However, severity of abolishment of child rights was very intense not to voice in our report. The reported abuses towards children included, naked body searches during visiting their families in prison, imprisonment of pregnant women and giving birth during imprisonment, imprisonment of postpartum women, obscuring access to doctor, medication, toys or play areas for children who are living beside their moms in prisons. Two women among our respondents had their toddlers beside them during their imprisonment time and one respondent was jailed when she was pregnant. Other had children in their barracks during imprisonment and witnessed similar abuses towards the rights of the child.

Domestic Violence and Social Exclusion

Political persecution and violence against women triggers other forms of violence such as domestic violence and communal violence in the form of social exclusion, stigma. Negatively affecting people’s psychologies these processes caused huge damages for families and children. Meryem (32) who is a survivor of domestic violence that her situation shows how political persecution processes negatively affect relationships and human psychologies. Her story as follows:

Immigration Process and Future Prospects

Immigration and asylum literature shows us that immigration is a complex phenomenon driven by numerous factors. We asked women about their decision of immigration to their current countries of residence. Political persecution, human rights violations are indicated as the major push factor for all respondents.


Gender has often an impact on the form of the torture and other ill-treatment, its circumstances, its consequences, and the availability and accessibility of reparation and redress.”(OSCE-ODIHR, 2019) Additionally, women are reluctant to report violence due to inefficient responses from the legal protection mechanisms or fear of further abuses. 

In our report, we focused mainly violence against women under detention, during imprisonment and when visiting imprisoned relatives. We have directed questions in 6 different categories targeting to acquire information on psychical, sexual, psychological, social and economic categories of violence against women. Additionally we have asked them about their feelings, future projections (details can be found under Method section).

The report puts forwards following suggestions:

  • Report indicates that there is a culture of violence spreading in Turkey resulted by political persecution. Torture and ill treatment should be evaluated and responded through international human rights mechanisms accordingly.

  • Policies should put gender-based violence against women as a form of torture and other ill treatment on the agenda of states and shape the debate on this issue through support from women rights bodies.

  • States should create platforms where women’s rights organizations and anti-torture organizations can meet, discuss and define common agendas and strategies. 

  • States must take measures to prevent violence against women, protect victims, investigate acts of sexual and gender based violence and prosecute perpetrators and condemn such acts within the scope of international rights and liabilities.

  • The human rights, needs and safety of victims/survivors should be prioritized through survivor-centered approach in the host countries.

  • Survivors of violence against women need psycho-social support programs that are specifically tailored for their needs.

  • Immigrants are also at risk of being discriminated both by host societies and their national populations in the countries that they seek asylum. Such risks should be eliminated through multiple dialogs and protection mechanisms.

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