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Women's organisations criminalised in Turkey after scores of arrests

WOMEN’S groups, their slogans and their right to organise have been criminalised by the Turkish authorities with the arrest of scores of Kurdish women last week.

Police swooped to detain prominent activists from the Tevgera Jinen Azad (TJA) and Rosa Women’s Association in a large-scale operation on Friday in which security services smashed down doors in a series of night-time raids.

Offices were ransacked and key documents taken, despite lawyers not being present, from the Rosa Women’s Association building in the city of Diyarbakir in Turkey’s largely Kurdish south-east.

The association was established in 2016 after all women’s organisations in Diyarbakir were shut down by presidential decree. It is the only women’s group engaging in support work and active struggle combating violence against women. 

A 24-hour confidentiality clause was imposed on the case file, meaning that details of the reason for the detentions and the charges being brought were initially unknown.

But lawyers confirmed that the authorities have banned prominent slogans used by the women’s movement including “Jin jiyan azadi” (“women, life, freedom” in Kurdish) along with “Women want peace” and a slogan demanding the whereabouts of disappeared Kurdish student Gulistan Doku.

A banner proclaiming that femicides are a political issue has been outlawed and activists are being charged for calling the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) co-chair system — which allows for equal representation on the basis of sex in the party’s structure — “a red line.” The party’s policy has been banned and branded an act of terrorism by the government.

The women detained were quizzed about their organisations’ support for each other and why they planned activities for International Women’s Day on March 8.

Others were grilled over their support for the Peace Mothers and involvement in actions in solidarity with the Kurdish hunger strikes, led by HDP MP Leyla Guven, that demanded an end to the isolation of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan, which ended in May 2019.

TJA warned: “Women’s right and freedom to independent organisation is being criminalised. All uses of the right to freedom of expression in favour of women’s freedom are being treated as incriminating evidence.”

“Being a woman, being Kurdish, living in Kurdish areas results in a threefold increase in oppression,” the group said, adding: “TJA is facing attack because it opposes the … draft law to allow child marriages and to pardon rapists who agree to marry the child.”

The group said that it organised the March 8 rally to stand against femicide, rape, racism, sexism and against the removal of elected HDP officials, along with opposition to war, exploitation and patriarchy.

“If this is a crime, then we are all committing this crime. We hereby invite all to stand up for TJA. “

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