The slaying of a young Turkish woman during an alleged attempted rape has prompted angry street protests across Turkey and demands that the government do more to combat violence against women.
Police on Friday discovered the charred corpse of Ozgecan Aslan, a 20-year-old psychology student, in a riverbed in southern Mersin province. She was killed while fighting back a sexual assault by the driver of a minibus she took to go home, authorities say.
Three people have been arrested in connection with the slaying, including the driver, authorities told local media. Protesters took to streets of major cities in Turkey on Saturday, as the victim was buried in her hometown.
The brutal killing has refocused public attention on what women’s advocacy groups call Turkey’s soaring levels of gender-based violence.
Women’s rights activists argue that the Islamist ruling party, the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is not doing enough to halt such violence—or to ensure those guilty of crimes against women receive adequate punishment. Many argue that Turkey’s judicial system is sympathetic to perpetrators of such crimes.
The number of gender-related homicides of Turkish women has soared in recent years. Authorities reported fewer than 100 in 2002, compared to almost 300 in 2014.
In January, another 27 Turkish women were killed in gender-related crimes, according to the news website Bianet, which monitors violence against women in the nation of 80 million. Half were slain by husbands, typically for seeking a divorce, the website said. Most of the killings were committed with guns or knives.
“A week ago we went to Ankara and called on the government to publicly denounce the murder of women here,” said Isil Kurt, an activist from the We Will Stop Women Homicides Platform, which organized Saturday’s protests. “It has been more than 24 hours since Aslan’s body was found, and still the government is silent.”
At Saturday’s demonstrations, protesters hoisted placards depicting a smiling Aslan while calling for harsher sentencing. “If you kill a woman, you should be jailed for life,” said Kurt. “There should be no judicial sympathy for these crimes.”
Ruling party leaders have repeatedly rejected allegations that they are not sufficiently sensitive to gender issues or adequately responsive to the problem of violence against women.
“Nobody can slander me or my colleagues when it is obvious how I have personally defended the women’s movement throughout my 40-year political career,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in November.
Recently, the government acknowledged that its “panic button” system – in which women deemed at high risk are issued with alarms they can press if attacked – had been a failure.
Meanwhile, a series of controversial comments by top ruling-party figures has spurred outrage. The comments were made before Aslan’s killing, but went viral across social media platforms after her death.
In one of the incendiary statements, ruling party parliamentarian Ayhan Sefer Ustun declared: “A rapist is more innocent than a rape victim who chooses to have an abortion.”
In Mersin, there was an outpouring of grief Saturday. The funeral procession included hundreds of women, some of whom insisted on carrying her coffin.
“Ozgecan had a wonderful heart, she would work hard, help everyone,” the grief-stricken mother of the slain woman told reporters. “I cannot accept that she was massacred when she took a minibus to come home.”
Aslan was reportedly last seen by a friend aboard a minibus on Wednesday.
The driver, identified publicly under Turkish law only as S.A., 26, drove Aslan to a remote locale, police said, where she fought back with pepper spray before being bludgeoned to death with an iron bar and stabbed multiple times.
The suspect – with help from his father and a friend – set Aslan’s body ablaze and dumped it in a remote riverbed, the Turkish media reported, citing police accounts.
The local press in Mersin reported that the killing had prompted the municipality to cancel all events marking Valentine’s Day.
Johnson is a special correspondent.
Times Staff Writer Patrick J. McDonnell in Beirut contributed to this report.