Turkey’s parliament on Wednesday night passed the first part of a controversial bill that will seek ‘solid evidence’ before sexual assault charges can be laid.
The ramifications of the bill has drawn concern from several women’s and children’s rights campaigners, defenders and organisations. The 14 articles of the first part of the bill foresee heavy penalties for the perpetrators of violence against women only if they committed violence against the current or the ex-wife.
Turkish courts will seek solid evidence even when it relates to cases of “sexual abuse of a child.” Solid evidence will be used to arrest the perpetrators of “catalogue crimes” in general, which include not only sexual abuse crimes relating to children, but also genocidal crimes, crimes against humanity and drug related crimes, as such.
The requirement of “solid evidence” for arrests in the bill, which consists of 27 articles in total, has led to heated public and private debates over the matter. Women’s rights activists have been campaigning against the bill, warning that such a requirement of ‘solid evidence’ in law might lead perpetrators of sexual abuse cases, especially those targeting children, to get away with their assaults.
This new bill, known as the ‘4th Judicial Package,’ was first proposed on 20 June by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and caused controversy in parliament as the main opposition parties immediately reacted to what they perceived to be ‘scandalous’ articles that had been ‘integrated’ into the package.
Erdoğan stated during a previous speech that the bill will make “administrative procedures easier for the citizens” and will introduce “very important innovations that will increase the assurance of criminal justice.”
The Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP’s) MP for Istanbul, Züleyha Gülüm and the Republican People’s Party’s (CHP’s) MP for Mersin, Alpay Antmen, were among those who reacted strongly to the bill when it was first proposed.
Gülüm, who also took part in the Justice Commission of the parliament, stated previously that seeking “solid evidence” does not favour the victims of sexual abuse, but instead favours the perpetrators.
“In the crimes against women and children, they will use this ‘solid evidence’ condition against the women and children and as long as they make it look like there is no ‘solid evidence,’ they will not rule a decision of arrest against the perpetrators. In the long term, this will cause further impunity,” she said.
Antmen had also warned against looking for ‘solid evidence’ as opposed to “the declaration of women” regarding the assault they were subjected to, which was a violation of women’s rights. “Especially in crimes of sexual assault and abuse, the essential thing regarding concrete evidence is the declaration of the victim. The biggest solid evidence in crimes against women is the declaration of the women,” he said.