NEWS

Murder of Turkish university student fuels calls for stiffer penalties

02/15/2015 08:55 EST | Updated 04/17/2015 05:59 EDT
Rallies, a near-lynching and a show of defiance from a group of women in mourning are once again opening discussion about violence against women in Turkey.

It began Wednesday on a minibus — a form of transit millions of Turks use every day.

Twenty-year-old Özgecan Aslan was heading home to the city of Mersin with a friend. Soon, she was the only passenger on board.

She was not seen alive again.

Police believe the 26-year-old minibus driver pulled the vehicle over and then tried to rape Aslan.

She resisted, police say. 

They allege she was stabbed to death in response, and that the suspect, his friend and his own father worked together to cover up the crime.

Aslan's burned remains were found in a riverbed last Friday, three days after she disappeared.

Tears and defiance

"My beautiful daughter, how could these monsters sacrifice my beautiful girl?" her mother Songül Aslan cried outside the cemetery.

Local media showed thousands gathered to mourn the young woman and noted a remarkable gesture of support and defiance.

The women there insisted they, not the men as is religious custom, would shoulder Aslan's casket.

Violence against women

The young woman is now a powerful symbol for those working to bring attention to the issue of violence again women in Turkey – one they insist the government is ignoring.

Istanbul was one of several Turkish cities that saw rallies on Saturday.

More were planned for Sunday across the country and the group Stop Women Homicides (Kadinlar Cinayetleri Durduracagiz) is asking women in Turkey to wear black on Monday in Aslan's honour.

There are varying statistics on the number of women killed in Turkey – but local reports suggest 281 women died violently in the country in 2014.

Activists and critics of the current Turkish government believe the blurring of secularist and religious lines in politics and private life has increased that kind of violence.

Political promises

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have both contacted the Aslan family to offer condolences. Speaking at a political rally in Antalya, Davutoglu said, "Because we know this kind of violence should never happen again we will do and keep doing whatever is necessary."

"I want the people who caused the death of my innocent girl to suffer more than she did," Songül Aslan told media before her daughter's funeral.

Turkish media aired video of local authorities walking one of the accused through a crowd; the angry mob closed in on the young man in an apparent attempt to lynch him.

The head of the Mersin Bar Association Alpay Antmen released a statement saying none of the 1,600 lawyers employed there wants to handle the case of the accused, men he calls "monsters".

Though members of the victim's family say they would like the death penalty in this case, activists say they are in favour of stiffer penalties, including life in prison for people convicted in these kinds of cases.

Above all – those filling the crowds and sharing Aslan's story on social media say they want to send a message that life – female lives – are not disposable in Turkey.

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