Turkey: Change Law of Misdemeanors to End Abuse of Trans People

The Issue:

In recent months, the harassment of transgender and transsexual persons in Turkey has intensified as police abuse the country's Law of Misdemeanors to legitimize daily fines, extortion, eviction, detention, and police brutality. The law gives security forces tremendous leeway to punish any noise, disobedience, and disturbance, with virtually no oversight in how the law is applied or recourse to those who are penalized.

Take Action:

Join the Pink Life LGBTT Solidarity Association in Ankara and the International Gay and Lesbian Commission (IGLHRC) in requesting that the Law of Misdemeanors in Turkey be rewritten to protect the rights of transgender and transsexual persons to move, associate, and express themselves freely.

Background:

For years, transgender and transsexual persons in Turkey have reported violence and abuse at the hands of state and private actors. Groups have reported routine persecution by gangs, police brutality and arbitrary arrests, the "marking" of houses or forced eviction on false claims of prostitution, extortion, and a series of murders that go uninvestigated and unresolved. They are also systematically denied work, education, housing, healthcare, mobility, and privacy simply for being transgender.

The situation has worsened since March 2005 with the introduction of the Law of Misdemeanors (No. 5326), which has allowed police to fine or otherwise penalize Turkish citizens on a variety of charges, none of which are defined explicitly under the law. Article 32 charges a fine of 100 lira (approximately $67 USD) on anyone who disobeys orders "to protect public security, public order, or common wealth." Articles 36 and 37 levy a 50 lira fine against anyone who "makes noise with a purpose of discomforting or breaking the peace of others" or "disturbs others to sell goods and services."

In Ankara, transgender people report being regularly fined 140 lira, being taken into custody, and being kicked, slapped, punched, and physically brutalized. In Istanbul, the routine fine is 69 lira. The persecution of transgender people in Istanbul has escalated and become especially vicious with the introduction of a bonus system instituted by Chief Police Officer Huseyin Capkin, which gives officers "points" for the number of fines they issue and lawbreakers they apprehend. Although transgender people report having being targeted by the police for years as a visible, vulnerable minority, the new system has expanded this persecution considerably. Now, they are fined under the pretense of prostitution in broad daylight, on main streets, while shopping or carrying out routine errands. Even under these circumstances, transgender people are targeted under the Law of Misdemeanors, facing fines, detention, extortion, expulsion from their homes, and brutality from the police.

Because the law prosecutes misdemeanors and not crimes, it is administratively applied by police with virtually no oversight or recourse from the judiciary. Under the vague and expansive charges listed in the Law of Misdemeanors, this ensures that police can act with impunity and target those populations who are in greatest need of legal protection.

Read more about LGBT human rights in Turkey »

National and International Law:

Turkey's Constitution explicitly prohibits this kind of unequal treatment, guaranteeing in Article 10 that "all individuals are equal without any discrimination before the law." Article 17 unequivocally states that "No one shall be subjected to torture or ill-treatment; no one shall be subjected to penalties or treatment incompatible with human dignity." In principle, the Constitution also guarantees privacy (Article 20), freedom of residence and movement (Article 23). Police fail to demonstrate that transgender persons pose any threat to public order and do not possess the approval necessary to suspend those rights.

The expansive application of the Law of Misdemeanors also violates a number of Turkey's most fundamental obligations under international law. Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Turkey must protect the rights of liberty and security of person (Article 9), freedom of movement (Article 12), freedom from arbitrary interference in one's private life (Article 17) and equality before the law (Article 26). The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights also obligates Turkey to recognize the rights to work (Article 7) and an adequate standard of living (Article 11), all of which are threatened when transgender people are unfairly targeted. Furthermore, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, has insisted: "Council of Europe Member States should take all necessary concrete action to ensure that transphobia is stopped and that transgender persons are no longer discriminated against in any field."

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