On This Day: Murder of rape target sparks protests against violence towards women - Feb. 11, 2015
(edited from Wikipedia)
Murder of Özgecan Aslan
Özgecan Aslan (1995-2015) was a Turkish university student who was murdered while resisting attempted rape on 11 February 2015 on a minibus in Mersin, Turkey. Her burnt body was discovered on 13 February. All perpetrators were handed aggravated life sentences without the possibility of parole.
The murder caused nationwide outrage and sparked protests across the country on the following days. Thousands of protesters took to the streets in several provinces, with some criticizing the government for its "insufficient response" and alleged normalization of the rape of non-conservative women.
The protests were described as the first mass movement for Turkish women. It also provoked calls for reforms to combat violence against women more effectively. The case received great attention on social media and prompted women to share their experiences of harassment, with 16 February being dubbed as "Black Monday" due to protests. The murder was described as a catalyst for women to speak out about their long-withheld suffering.
Özgecan was born into a poor Alevi Turkish family, who traced their origins to Tunceli. She was a first-year psychology student in the Çağ University in Tarsus. She was born and raised in Mersin, and wanted to study psychology, for which she had developed a strong passion while she was studying at the tourism high school. Her parents were supportive of her, with her mother returning to the workforce in order to fund her education, to augment the 50% scholarship she had earned.
According to Turkish law, the defendant in such cases must have a lawyer for the criminal prosecution to begin. However, the 1,600 lawyers of the bar association of Mersin made a joint statement that none of them wanted to support such "brutal savages" in the court and refused to assign a lawyer. This stalled the transfer of the suspects to the criminal prosecution.
The trial concluded on 3 December as the three defendants were given aggravated life sentences without possibility of parole.
The case became a cause célèbre in Turkey as a marker of the violence against women. The brutality of the murder especially caused a public outcry, with thousands of protesters taking to the streets across Turkey.
In Tarsus, a mob tried to lynch the suspects as they were arrested by the police. The funeral of Özgecan was attended by around 5000 people and women defied the imam in the funeral by attending the prayer together with the men and carrying the coffin of Özgecan, against the religious tradition.
In Istanbul, protesters, most of whom were women, gathered in the İstiklal Avenue and marched to the Taksim Square on 14 February, also condemning the alleged inaction of the government and lack of official condemnation, with thousands further protesting in the Kadıköy district. In Ankara, protests took place despite police intervention, as demonstrators occupied a central park.
[Further protests took place throughout Turkey].
Members of a group of 50 women who hung banners in the Taksim Square, Istanbul, were arrested by the police. Claims of the courts having sympathies for perpetrators of violence against women and thus issuing reduced sentences were highlighted during the protests. According to CBC News, the motivation of the protesters is to show that "female lives are not disposable in Turkey". Hürriyet reported that the protests had simultaneously united and divided Turkey.
On 15 February, around 500 people marched in Sivas and a group of Turkish people protested in Trafalgar Square in London. In Mersin, a crowd gathered again for protests, and the police supported the demonstrators by distributing Aslan's pictures and chanting using megaphones.
On 17 February, protests continued both in Turkey and abroad. Northern Cyprus saw protests as around 100 protesters, among whom were members of the parliament, held a symbolic funeral prayer and marched through the streets of the capital, North Nicosia with a coffin.
On 18 February, major protests took place in Tarsus. 15,000 people marched in the Çağ University and blocked a major highway. The protesters almost all wore black, with some wearing clothes soaked in makeshift blood.
Protests continued on 19 February across Turkey despite severe weather conditions.
On 21 February, large protests took place in Istanbul. A group also protested in the Union Square in New York City.
The government response was criticized by many Turks as "too little, too late". Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu condemned the attack and announced that this would prompt a widespread campaign against violence against women. He also announced that a youth center in Antalya would be named after Özgecan. Özgecan's university also decided to name a newly built psychology lab after her. The Turkish Council of Ministers discussed the murder of Özgecan, but declined to condone a possible reintroduction of the death penalty for such offenses, as it had been proposed by some.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also offered his condolences to the family of Özgecan. He later criticized the protesters, claiming that some of them had danced during the protests, committing a cultural offense due to their non-conformity to religious norms. On 17 February, he further criticized the women's rights movement in Turkey.
Ayşenur İslam, the Minister of Family and Social Affairs, who visited Özgecan's family, met with protests during a press statement. Members of the parliament from the Republican People's Party, the main opposition in Turkey, left the parliament when she was delivering a speech about the murder. Emine Erdoğan, the first lady of Turkey, said that the fate of Özgecan "never got out of their minds" and that "women were schools for their children". Sare Davutoğlu, the wife of the prime minister, visited Özgecan's family.
The murder sparked widespread outrage on social media, with the hashtag "#sendeanlat" ("you must also tell" becoming the most popular in the country, encouraging women to tell their own stories of harassment and everyday fears in Turkey. The campaign was also supported by popular figures in the country, including the actress Beren Saat, who wrote a lengthy account of her experiences of harassment.
It became the third most popular topic globally on Twitter, gathering more than 440,000 tweets in two days. Women shared stories of having to carry pepper spray and pocket knives for short everyday walks, wearing fake wedding rings and getting off buses early to avoid being the last passenger. There were also stories of girls started being harassed at the age of five and schoolgirls having to endure daily harassment on buses, especially when wearing skirts.
16 February was dubbed as "Black Monday" in Turkey, with many citizens, including celebrities, wearing black to raise awareness about violence against women, in accordance with the popular hashtag "#Özgecaniçinsiyahgiy " ("wear black for Özgecan " ). The campaign was widely popular as thousands marched in black in major cities and high schools across the country complied with it. An online petition demanding more responsible decisions from institutions in cases like Özgecan's gathered more than 600,000 signatures in two days. The murder caused widespread fear among women in Tarsus, some of whom stated that they would never use the minibus again and opt for trains as much as possible instead.
A campaign was started in Azerbaijan, where men posted photos of themselves wearing mini skirts in protest, with the hashtag #ozgecanicinminietekgiy ("wear a mini skirt for Özgecan " ). The campaign soon spread to Turkey and globally, with support from the actress Emma Watson.
Following the murder, a petition was started to prevent reduction of sentences being given to perpetrators of violence and murder against women. Before the Turkish general election of June 2015, the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) and the Republican Turkish Party (CHP) promised to pass the "Özgecan Law" after the election. The postponement of the "Özgecan Law" prompted further protests, which were supported by MPs from the CHP.
On 18 November, Aylin Nazlıaka put forward the proposed changes again. The proposed law, however, was criticized by a group of lawyers advocating women's rights from Antalya, who claimed that the heavier sentences would increase the brutality of future violence as perpetrators would want to destroy any evidence, and that the problem lay with the sexist upbringing of children. Upon the conviction of the perpetrators on 3 December, Özgecan's mother called for the "Özgecan Law" to be passed as soon as possible.
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