Despite right to self-defense, top Turkish court upholds life sentence of woman who killed rapist

Turkey's Court of Cassation, the country's highest court of appeals, has upheld the life sentence handed to a woman who killed the man who systematically sexually abused her. The woman, Nevin Yıldırım, has already been imprisoned for over nine years.

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The General Penal Board of the Turkish Court of Cassation has upheld the life sentence handed to Nevin Yıldırım, who in self-defense killed the man who systematically sexually assaulted her, online news outlet Artı Gerçek reported on Dec. 21. Yıldırım has already been imprisoned for seven years.

Nevin Yıldırım lived in the district of Yalvaç in the southwestern province of Isparta shot the man who repeatedly raped her, Nurettin Gider, in 2012. She then beheaded him and threw his severed head into the village square. She was arrested and sentenced to life in prison in 2015. 

At the time of the murder, Yıldırım was six months pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl in prison. When they DNA tested the baby in 2013, it was confirmed that the father was Nurettin Gider. 

Yıldırım’s lawyers appealed the decision on the grounds that the killing was in self-defense as a result of repeated rape. The case was brought to the 1st Criminal Chamber of the Court of Cassation, which ordered further investigation into the killing. Following the investigation, the Yalvaç Heavy Penal Court upheld the life sentence. 

However, the Office of the Chief Public Prosecutor of the top court then objected to this decision, stating that a reduction in sentence due to provocation should be applied to Yıldırım’s sentence. However, the General Assembly rejected this on the grounds that Yıldırım consensually lived with Gider and that his actions could therefore not be considered unjust provocations.

Yıldırım’s case became a rallying cry for feminist groups in Turkey. Femicides and violence against women have been on the rise in the last two decades of Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule, and the government has withdrawn from critical legislation to protect women, such as the Istanbul Convention. Further, many of those who kill women walk free or receive light sentences, while women who kill their abusers tend to receive harsh punishment. 

Women’s groups in Turkey say this unequal punishment is representative of the unequal status of women and men in the country.