Prosecutors must investigate the second arbitrary arrest of transgender rights defenders in Ankara in as many months and drop all charges against the women, three human rights organizations have said. In a letter to the Turkish Interior and Justice Ministries [PDF], the rights organizations called for an end to police harassment of transgender people and expressed concern over the possible targeting of members of the organization Pembe Hayat LGBTT Dayanışma Derneği.
On June 19, 2010, three human rights defenders were arbitrarily detained by police officers while driving through the Seyranbaglari Mah neighborhood in Ankara. Although the human rights defenders filed an official complaint with the Public Prosecutor the Prosecutor dismissed their complaint and instead permitted charges against them of resisting the police and damaging public property.
If convicted, they face up to three years in prison and limitations on their rights of parental guardianship. They could also be barred from public office or leadership within any political, public, or non-profit organization. The next hearing will be on 29 December 2010.
"To be transgender in Turkey means that the police assume that you are a criminal," said Hossein Alizadeh, Middle East and North Africa regional coordinator at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. "As long as the Turkish government refuses to change discriminatory laws and fails to provide sensitivity training to police, there can be little hope of equality and justice for transgender people in Turkey."
The letter to the Justice and Interior Ministers was signed by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, COC Netherlands, and GATE - Global Action for Trans* Equality.
The day of the arrest, Ankara police stopped a car carrying Naz (Burhan) Gudumen, Buse (Bülent) Kılıçkaya, and Selay (Derya) Tunç and informed them that they were under arrest. The women were forcibly dragged by police officers into a waiting police van and were then transported to the police station and held for five hours before being released.
"The Turkish government has a duty to protect transgender human rights defenders, not to persecute them," said Justus Eisfeld, co-director of GATE - Global Action for Trans* Equality. "It is time the government acted on this duty by dropping all arbitrary charges and holding police officers accountable for their actions."This is the second time in the past three months that transgender activists – including two of the same individuals involved in this latest incident - have been arrested and criminally charged.
On May 17, 2010, five transgender members of Pembe Hyatt, including Ms. Kılıçkaya and Ms. Tunç, were brutally assaulted and detained by Ankara’s police. An Ankara court subsequently dismissed the charges against the activists for lack of evidence and condemned the police officers’ treatment of the women as "totally wrong." The arrest of Ms. Kılıçkaya and Ms. Tunç within one month of the earlier May incident, and the possible severe penalty of being barred from holding office within an organization that would have a considerable impact on the two activists, suggests that police may be targeting them because of their work for transgender human rights.
In their letter, the human rights groups noted that these events are part of a larger pattern of violence and discrimination against transgender people in Turkey. Over the past twenty months, at least nine transgender people have been murdered. The organizations asked the government to repeal laws like the Law of Misdemeanors (No. 5326) that facilitate violence against transgender people and instead institute effective legal protections against discrimination. The groups also requested the Turkish government to provide LGBT sensitivity training for law enforcement officers so as to prevent possible future cases.
"COC Netherlands joins in expressing sincere concerns about -yet another- case of unjustifiable police behaviour towards members of the Turkish transgender community," said Koen van Dijk, executive director of COC Netherlands. "Whilst we continue to stand in solidarity with our Turkish friends, we demand the Turkish government to take its responsibility and ensure that trans citizens like any other citizens can live their lives in freedom and security."