Turkey’s Court of Cassation has approved a 15-year prison sentence against Çilem Doğan, who killed her husband in 2015 after years of domestic abuse, BirGün newspaper reported on Thursday.
Doğan was originally sentenced to life in prison for the killing, which she said was in self-defence. The court lowered her sentence to 15 years after taking into account extenuating circumstances.
The then 26-year-old had filed at least nine police complaints against her husband, Hasan Karabulut, for repeatedly subjecting her to physical violence, often in public.
In one incident, Karabulut dragged pregnant Doğan by the hair and kicked her, she told the court.
“State mechanisms cannot protect women from male violence,” Doğan’s lawyer Songül Yılmaz told the court. “Women who are forced to defend themselves due to men who are not stopped should be able to utilise legitimate self-defence clauses,” she added.
On the day that Doğan killed her husband, he had dragged her on the ground for refusing to undertake sex work to pay for his substance abuse addiction.
“I thought he was going to kill me. I reached for his gun and started to fire. I do not know how many rounds,” she told the court. The young woman took her then two-year-old daughter and left her wounded husband to die, before surrendering to police a few hours later.
During her subsequent transfer to prison, she told reporters: “Must it always be the women who die? Let the men die for a while. I killed for my dignity.”
Doğan has since become a symbol for women’s rights in Turkey, garnering significant public support over the failure of authorities to intervene to halt the domestic abuse.
“I do not want to go to prison for surviving death at the last minute. If I had not defended my life, I would have ended up as another among many (murdered) women,” Doğan told reporters on March 8, International Women’s Day.
“We expected nothing from men’s justice. We were not proven wrong. Women will continue to fight shoulder to shoulder,” Doğan said in a letter to the public, posted on social media by her legal team.
Doğan’s lawyers said they will take the case to the Court of Cassation’s General Assembly of Criminal Chambers.
Women’s organisations in at least four cities, Istanbul, Izmir, Ankara and Mersin, have called for demonstrations on Friday to protest the sentence, Evrensel newspaper reported.
“Women’s struggle will continue so no woman has to fight for her life,” advocacy group Women’s Assemblies said on social media.
In March, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan withdrew Turkey from the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, better known as the Istanbul Convention.
The convention had been drafted with major contributions from Turkish experts and campaigners following the case of Nahide Opuz, who took Turkey to the European Court of Human Rights for failing to protect the right to life after her husband murdered her mother.
With the Istanbul Convention gone, Turkey’s women rely on Law No.6284 to Protect the Family and Prevent Violence against Women, which rights advocates say has not been properly implemented.
Domestic abusers frequently receive lenient sentences as Turkish courts “often believe that disobedient women deserve violence”, according to Eylem Ümit Atılgan, vice dean for the faculty of law at Kyrenia University.
Turkey also lacks crisis centres and shelters to help victims of gendered violence, with authorities often working to reconcile women with their violent partners rather than prosecuting them.
The Anıtsayaç (Counter Monument), an activist-run project, recorded 293 femicides in 2015, the year Doğan killed her husband. This figure has already been surpassed in the first 10 months of this year, with at least 296 women killed so far in 2021.
Efforts to record violence against women are limited by a lack of official data, which is not collected by the interior, justice, or family ministries. Instead, figures are based on news reports, with the actual number of cases therefore likely to be much higher.