Turkey increases punishments for violence against women after treaty pullout

Turkey increased punishments for crimes against women after its withdrawal last year from an international treaty on domestic violence sparked condemnation at home and abroad.

The Turkish parliament approved the measures late on Thursday, state-run Anadolu news agency reported. The murder of a woman will carry a prison sentence of life without parole, according to the legal amendments. Punishments for deliberate injury, threat or torture against women were also increased.

Turkey withdrew from the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, better known as the Istanbul Convention, in July last year. Pro-government conservative and Islamist groups argued that the convention undermined Turkish family values and promoted homosexuality. Turkey’s withdrawal sparked heavy criticism from its Western allies and led to protests across the country.

The legal changes are “far from providing gender equality and represent the perspective of a government that has not included the definition of violence against women in the Turkish Penal Code,” the Federation of Women's Associations of Turkey said on Twitter on Thursday.

Torture will carry a minimum jail term of five years compared with a previous three years and torment two years and six months instead of two years. The punishment for intentional injury treated with basic medical care was raised to a minimum of six months from four months.

Violence against women and femicide remain serious problems in Turkey, partly due to the lenient treatment of suspects by the nation’s courts. At least 339 women were killed by men in Turkey last year, according to news website Bianet’s Male Violence Monitoring Report. In 2021, deaths of women at the hands of men rose to the highest level since Bianet’s annual monitoring began in 2010.

The legal amendments will also limit the scope a judge has to approve discretionary reductions in sentencing under the Turkish Penal Code. A perpetrator's repentant behaviour will not be accepted as grounds for a discount, nor will good behaviour during a trial, such as wearing a suit and tie.

In November, police fired tear gas and smoke bombs at hundreds of people who congregated in Istanbul to protest violence against women. Clashes broke out as police officers sought to disperse the crowd.

Some Turkish women say the withdrawal from the convention means that it could be the beginning of the end for guarantees that protect them. Erdogan has said Turkey would use local laws to protect them.

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