The bar association in Turkey’s easternmost Van (Wan) province is accusing a prosecutor of using a confidentiality order to obscure a sexual assault case where two Turkish soldiers stand accused of assaulting an undocumented Afghan migrant at the country’s border with Iran.
The confidentiality order “clearly aims to hide the case away from the public”, lawyers told reporters in a press conference on Friday.
On 4 January, a female Afghan national pressed charges against two Turkish soldiers for sexual assault, accusing the soldiers of separating her from a group of migrants, who were unlawfully sent to the border for an unofficial deportation, and assaulting her. The woman, identified with the initials L.M., was subjected to sexual harassment in front of other migrants as well, she told authorities.
A group of migrants were pushed back beyond the border on the same day, unlawfully prevented from petitioning for asylum, the lawyers said.
L.M. walked back to the gendarmerie outpost at the border after the assault, and pressed charges. She also identified the alleged assailants. The soldiers were arrested, and the public prosecutor issued a confidentiality order on the case. “It is clear that the concern was not any risk to the investigation itself,” the lawyers said.
“Patriarchy is supported by the conditions asylum seekers face in the country. The political stance that allows for such systemic harassment and assault against women must be abandoned at once,” they continued.
Turkey’s border and migration policies open migrant and refugee women up for further violence, the lawyers said.
“We call on the government to stop policies of impunity, and fulfil their positive duty regarding combating violence against women.”
Instances of violence against women have been on the rise in the two years since Turkey withdrew from the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, better known as the Istanbul Convention. While lesser protections still exist in Turkish law for the country’s female citizens, the withdrawal has left undocumented migrant women mostly unprotected.
“We stand with all women who are subjected to violence. We will follow the matter to its end,” the bar association said.