THE CONTINOUS ARBITRARY DETENTION(S) OF FEMALE JURISTS OF TURKEY
By Volunteer Jurists Association, 2021
WHAT IS INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY FOR?
In 1908, an action to be spread around the world was taken by 15.000 American worker women which consisted of a march through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights. After becoming a worldwide movement, it has been declared as International Women’s Day for the First time in some European countries. On the eve of World War I, the 8th of March has been adopted as the date of annual celebration. In 1975, the United Nations also participated in celebrating this meaningful date. By 2000, the celebrations have been holding in many other countries and today it is holiday in tens of countries.
The awareness about women rights is not in its ideal condition yet. Since the violence against women is far from being reduced, the patriarchal society still uses every opportunity to make women in inferior conditions. Domicile violence, wage inequity, right to education: these are just the results of the main injustices which are inside people’s mind.
Although human rights defenders’ efforts have had a positive effect in the society on the last century, the real equality in our life is still predicted not to be seen by our generation. If many solutions are ready to be used, the most effective and essential method is always increasing awareness in each individual’s mind. This year’s theme is #ChoosetoChallenge which leads us to take a stand against the human rights abusers in Turkey.
International women’s day is a great occasion for all to remember the female jurists of Turkey who have been detained on account of politically motivated investigations and adjudications in Turkey. Ayşe Neşe Gül, Nesibe Özer, Yeşim Sayıldı and many other female jurists of Turkey have been in prison cells as a result of the huge crackdown on democracy and the rule of law. Despite repeating calls in the modern world for the utmost respect to the rights of women, our colleagues and their rights have being overlooked and they continue to suffer in the hands of the brutal regime which carelessly violates not only the rights of women but also the rights of all at a mass scale.
This special day is a great opportunity to remind the world of the crimes against humanity are being constantly committed in the forms of arbitrary arrest and detentions. The prosecutors and judges on duty collaboratively work with the government to criminalize innocent people with crimes in the context of controversial terrorism laws. As known, The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has stated the broadness and the inadequacy of those laws to protect people against arbitrary interference of the state. In other words, those terrorism laws are very instrumental in the hands of a regime which is infamous to exploit the legal regulations to silence and to punish dissents. The figures staggeringly indicate the scale of the abuse of the terrorism law, hundreds of thousands of people have been investigated and many of them sentenced to prison times. The allegations against our colleagues which have caused to their detainment more than four years do not comprise of any tangible component which may give rise to the existence of any crime including terrorism related crimes. It is crystal clear that accusing hundreds of thousands of people including our female colleagues of being members of the armed terrorist organisation without a factual basis may constitute the crimes against humanity in the eyes of international law. We consider this remarkable day as well a chance as part of our scholar obligation to tell the policy makers, politicians and other state agents, judges and prosecutors about the crimes against humanity they have been committing against our colleagues. They have also been involved in many other abuses punishable under the Turkish Criminal Code such as abusing the power and the authority, depriving innocent people of their freedom are just one of those crimes that may result in their accountability in the future. The current situation and the culture of impunity in Turkey shield them from any prosecution right now, however this does not necessarily mean that this will last forever.
THE GROUNDS FOR THE IMPRISONMENT OF WOMEN
The right to liberty and security is one of the core and prominent rights that is protected by national constitutions and core international human rights instruments. Turkey is a signatory state to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and The European Convention on Human Rights. It has pledged to avoid the arbitrary arrest and detention and to comply with the international standards. The limitations are imposed on this right should be prescribed by law, proportionate and necessary in a democratic society as has been very well established by several decisions of international tribunals. However, Turkey continuously contravenes its obligations by holding many people including our colleagues under arbitrary detention. Fabricated charges have been brought to justify the arrests. Additionally to these instruments, there are other conventions which have been brought to recover the issues of concerns with special regard to the rights of women. Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW) is the most significant treaty among others. In spite of the fact that all the forms of violence including political violence to women are prohibited, Turkey is carelessly opting to continue its violations towards women at mass scale. Arbitrary arrests and detentions are meant to be prohibited in international law but yet in Turkey they are being used as a tool to eradicate the independence of the judiciary even for female jurists. In article 3, CEDAW emphasizes the need to enact policies and to develop practices by saying that “to ensure the full development and advancement of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality with men.” On the one hand the convention provides extra protection to women to fully enjoy their human rights on an equality basis with men, on the other hand Turkey deprives female jurists even of their basic rights. Even for men the option of the detention should be regarded as a last resort, how can it be explained to detain women for fabricated terrorism charges and keep some of them in solitary confinement? There is no explanation to this but the instrumentality of terrorism laws to make innocent people suffer under the cover of fight against terrorism.
Observing the developments in Turkey especially after 15th of July 2016, it may unveil the facts to demonstrate to what extent the suffering has reached. The current situation of human rights in Turkey is critically bad and urgent action is needed to restore the respect for human rights at all levels of the state. After 15th of July 2016, the Justice and Development Party has redesigned the state with executive orders and has taken destructive steps to eliminate all dissident voices in all branches of state including judiciary which has been made available to be used as a weapon against all dissident groups. After the attempt of the coup d’état, hundreds of thousands of people have been detained as part of the operations carried out against the dissidents who oppose the view of the government. Given to the importance of the functions of the judiciary, more than 4500 judges and prosecutors have been dismissed from judgeship profession and many of them have been detained for ungrounded terrorism charges in order to create a judicial system that completely follow the orders of the government rather than laws. The judges and prosecutors on duty indiscriminately targeted their previous colleagues and many other people in the hope for preserving their status or not sharing the same destiny of them namely in arrests and detentions.
The situation in Turkey is getting worse day by day. Despite the well documented evidences of human rights abuses, people continue to suffer because of the inaction of international community to stop the unlawfulness. Even the mere presence of the detainment of our female colleagues more than four years in solitary confinement suffices to demonstrate the direness of the situation. Turkey is failing to meet international standards in the eyes of international community. Although the poor human rights record has always been an undeniable reality for Turkey, after 15th of July, the scale of the human rights abuses hit the highest peak ever. According to the World Justice Project, Turkey was ranked 107th country out of 128 countries. Despite the allegations of Turkey being part of Europe, it is ranked 14th out of 14 countries in its region which comprises the eastern European states and Central Asia region. Compared with the standards of western democracies that Turkey has once set an aim to reach, Turkey is no more considered to have an existence on the table of the countries which respects the rule of law.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE IMPRISONMENT
In a jurisdiction in which the rule of law prevails, people should not have been imprisoned on fabricated charges but yet in Turkey our colleagues evidently are living with the consequences of the incarceration. They have been accused to declare their candidacy to be executive member of the Council of Judges and Prosecutors, they have been accused with the confessions by their former colleagues taken under duress and many other things that would not be considered as an evidence to give rise to the crime of the membership of the armed terrorist organisation. The pages are insufficient to tell the unfairness and unlawfulness that they have been going through, however, in this article, naming and sharing some of the vulnerabilities is our responsibility and an indication of the colleague solidarity.
As mothers, wives, daughters or sisters, they have been separated by their loved ones for more than years. They have been traumatized to lose their jobs to which they have given years. With the aggravating effect of the COVID 19, they have also been subject to restrictions on visitations. Increased time in their cells could contribute to the problems they have been facing for years. Despite the meaningful contact with the outside world is of huge importance to preserve the mental and physical health in prison, they have been restrained due to the coronavirus. Increased time to spend in the cells and all other restrictions have had drastic effects on them. They have especially been in dire necessity to see their children in open meetings which have been banned as part of the responses to the coronavirus pandemic. It’s been suggested that women are tend to maintain the social contact with their children than to men by which they acquire an essential social support to preserve their well-being. Isolation from this social support is a risk factor for women and may result in developing some mental problems.
They are also particularly at risk to be encountered with COVID 19 which has caused hundreds of thousands people to lose their lives. The combination of the conditions of prisons and the inadequacy of the healthcare services make prisoners more vulnerable to the deadly effects of coronavirus. International human rights law provides everyone the right to the highest attainable standard of health and obligates governments to take necessary steps to prevent threats to public health and to provide medical care to those who need it. In terms of some human rights such as right to life, the responsibility of states could not be confined just to respect but to safeguard it with positive measures in necessary situations. Regarding the right to life, international instruments of human rights obligates states to take precautions to make sure the full enjoyment of this right. The situation of prisoners, in this regard, should be considered very carefully because the disadvantageous circumstances inherent to loss of freedom and the unhygienic conditions of the prisons.
On the imprisonment of women, there is an internationally recognized approach that women are much more likely to suffer from the negative effects of incarceration than men. This vulnerability especially could be observed in tendency to develop mental health problems or post-traumatic stress disorder in or after the incarceration. The rates of self-harm and suicide are pretty much higher when compared with male inmates. The fact that the places that they have been forced to live in, primarily designed for the deprivation of liberty rather than provision of healthcare. The insufficiency on the delivery of the specific needs of the women doubles the current problems. The circumstances which have been observed in the incarceration of women leads the calls to develop the non-custodial options to custody. The unanimous adoption of the Bangkok rules at the United Nations indicates the underlying needs of women to be treated with other options aside from custodial options.
The prisons are places predominantly built to meet the needs of men rather than women. From security practices to the whole rules of confinement, the prison facilities have been established to fulfil the needs and problems of serious male offenders.  In our case, we have innocent female jurists been imprisoned on political grounds. Based on this reality, the circumstances in the prison endanger the physical and mental integrity of our colleagues. The indiscriminately imposition of those rules with no regard to the specific characteristics of our colleagues with no record of violence and offending, puts them in danger which may result in irreparable damages in the end. It is also particularly difficult for our colleagues because the prisons serve as a place to minimise the choices of inmates and to reduce the self-trust, self-direction to make them follow the orders of the prison management. After having worked as judges for many years at high levels of the judiciary, they have been forcing to live under strict regime of the prison.
Even if there have been no basis to detain our colleagues, they have been coerced to live in prison for more than four years. The consequences and the burden have been so heavy for each with irreversible damages. Although they have been accused of committing very serious crimes are capable of undermining the democratic system of Turkey, any evidence could not be shown to suggest that they have really committed those crimes. It can be inferred from this passage that in a country where people are accused of fictional crimes, real ones are being committed by the ones who have adjudicate the innocent people. Enough is enough, they should be released immediately from the prison. Their rights should be completely restored without delay, and the perpetrators who have caused them to suffer should be held accountable for all crimes they have committed. Otherwise, international women’s day is just a day like others in a country where female jurists are being kept behind the bars without a crime.
- World Health Organisation: Women’s health in prison: Correcting Gender Inequity in Prison Health. WHO, 2009 (http://www.euro.who.int/_data/assets/pdf_file/0004/76513/E92347/.pdf)
- European Court of Human Rights, Grand Chamber Judgment, Case of Selahattin Demirtaş v Turkey, Application no: 14315/17)
- Bartlett Annie and Hollins Sheila, ‘Challenges and mental health needs of women in prison’, The British Journal of Psychiatry (2018).
 European Court of Human Rights, Grand Chamber Judgment Case of Selahattin Demirtaş v Turkey, Application no 14305/17.
 Bartlett A and Hollins S, ‘Challenges and mental health needs of women in prison’, The British Journal of Psychiatry (2018).
 World Health Organization, ‘Women’s health in prison: correcting gender inequity in prison health.’WHO,2009.
 Bartlett A and Hollins S, ‘Challenges and mental health needs of women in prison’, The British Journal of Psychiatry (2018).
 Ibid, p134.
 Ibid, p135.