Turkey: Transsexual Activist Sues Beyoglu Police Bureau

Demet Demir, winner of the 1997 Felipa de Souza Award is suing the Beyoglu District Police Bureau for allegedly assaulting her on July 12, 1997, barely two months after her acceptance of the IGLHRC human rights award in recognition of her exemplary activism on behalf of the Turkish transvestite and transsexual communities. It is reported that Demir was severely beaten and illegally detained by police when she intervened against their assault of a young Kurdish girl selling handkerchiefs on Istiklal Street in Istanbul. The incident occurred as Demir emerged from a workshop organized to promote the employment skills of members of the transvestite and transsexual community, whose only option in Istanbul is usually sex work.

Because of her outspokenness, Demet Demir has been imprisoned many times and specifically targeted by the local Cihangir police in the Beyoglu District of Istanbul. Since the summer of 1996, Demir's front door has been broken in three times, and her telephone cables cut, in an effort to intimidate and silence her. In fact, police broke into her house, as she herself was being interviewed by a foreign journalist during the state sanctioned "clean up" campaign of intimidation and violence initiated prior to the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) held in Istanbul in June 1996.

Demir's reported assault by the police is emblematic of the situation of transvestites and transsexuals in Istanbul, who have been routinely rounded up from their homes, beaten and evicted. IGLHRC has documented for the past 7 years, reports of the impunity and regularity of vicious attacks against Turkish transsexuals and transvestites by the police. These have included reports of torture while in police custody, and of police incineration of the homes of known transsexuals. Demir and other members of the drastically reduced transvestite and transsexual community of Cihangir have petitioned the local and national government to no avail.

Since filing suit over her wrongful incarceration and assault, Demir continues to face heightened police surveillance and harassment. The International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission fears for Demir's well-being as she persists with her official complaint against the police.

IGLHRC first advocated on Demir's behalf in 1990, bringing the plight of Turkish transvestites and transsexuals to the attention of larger human rights organizations. Indeed in 1991, Demir became the first person in history to be taken as an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, due to persecution on account of her sexual orientation.

We call on the international community to put pressure on the Turkish authorities to secure Demir's safety throughout the litigation process, ensure a fair investigation, and put an end to the harassment of Istanbul's transvestite and transsexual community.

Please write letters to:

President Suleyman Demirel
President of the Republic
Cumhurbaskanligi Kosku
Cankaya, Ankara, TURKEY
FAX # 90-312-440-7212
Beyoglu Police Chief
Mr Ercument Yilmaz
Beyoglu Emniyet Amirligi
Istanbul, Turkey
State Minister for Human Rights:
Mr Hikmet Sami Turk
Office of the Prime Minister
06573 Ankara, Turkey