Turkish woman faces jail term for killing abusive husband in self defense

Turkey's Court of Cassation has upheld a lower court’s 15-year sentence for Çilem Doğan, who killed her husband after years of abuse and forced sex work. Doğan’s lawyer called the decision “unfair,” and encouraging of future violence against women.

Duvar English

Turkey's Court of Cassation, the country's highest court of appeals, has upheld a 15-year prison sentence for Çilem Doğan.

Doğan was charged with murder by a local court after she killed her abusive husband, who subjected her to systematic violence and forced her to do sex work for years. 

Speaking to Gazete Duvar, Çilem Doğan’s lawyer İsa Ayanoğlu said that the decision may fuel further violence against women in a country already plagued with femicide and abuse of women. 

“Unfortunately, making such a decision in a case that has become a symbol of violence against women may encourage and fuel the male violence that may occur in the future,” he said.

Doğan was brought to trial at the Adana 10th Criminal Court in soutern Turkey, with prosecutors demanding an aggravated life sentence for killing her husband, Hasan Karabulut.

Karabulut subjected Doğan to years of abuse and sexual violence, and also forced her to do sex work. Doğan shot and killed Karabulut in Adana on July 8, 2015. 

The Adana court sentenced Doğan to 15 years in prison, but she was released on bail for good behavior on June 20, 2016. Doğan and her lawyers appealed the sentence, citing Karabulut’s abuse and arguing self defense, and the case was transferred to the Court of Cassation. The first hearing was held on Oct. 21, and the second on Nov. 4. As the Court of Cassation upheld Doğan's sentence, when will now be returned to prison.

In the wake of her sentencing, Doğan’s case became a symbol of the systematic violence and judicial discrimination women face in Turkey. In 2021 alone, according to the Turkish women’s rights advocacy group “We Will Stop Femicide Platform,” 296 women have been murdered. In 2020, that number was 422, and in 2019, 419. The years since the Justice and Development Party (AKP)-led government’s consolidation of power and promotion of male-dominated gender relations has seen a rapid rise in the murder of women - for comparison, in 2008, just six years after the AKP came to power, 66 women were murdered. 

The government denies the systemic issue of violence against women - last year, without evidence, the Turkish Interior Ministry claimed that by early November of 2020, 27% fewer women had been killed than the year before. 

Many of those that abuse and kill women go unpunished in Turkey. Though technically, laws exist to protect women, like Doğan, who are abused by their husbands, they often go unenforced. Abusers are allowed to return to their homes with their spouses and children, as one Deutsche Welle investigation showed

Those who are brought to trial for femicide often experience complete impunity, or are let off with light sentences. Ümitcan Uygun, who killed a 21-year-old woman named Aleyna Çakır in June 2020, was set free later that year. This summer, on Aug. 5, 2021, he killed another 25-year-old woman named Esra Hankulu in Ankara. Only after the second murder and the public outcry that followed was he sentenced to life in prison. This is just one example of the near-total impunity abusers and murderers of women experience in the current Turkish judicial system.

Conversely, when women kill their abusers, they are often handed harsh sentences. Doğan is just one example - Melek İpek, who was handcuffed naked and abused by her husband in front of her two daughters in southern Turkey last January, picked up a gun and killed him during a struggle the next day. She was charged with murder and prosecutors sought a life sentence. She was only released due to “lack of reason to prosecute” in April.

Further, in some cases, obvious assaults and murders, such as that of 23-year-old Şule Çet by her boss in May 2018, are ruled suicides

This decision against Doğan comes as yet another mark against women’s rights in Turkey. Doğan’s lawyer Ayanoğlu said it was a “decision they never expected.”

“We expected reversal, but they upheld the decision of the local court,” he said. “People waited to hear this decision throughout Turkey, and a result [of acquittal] was expected. We think the decision was unfair. This decision to approve the local court’s decision with a majority of votes was not the right decision.”

Attorney Ayanoğlu further said that Doğan’s legal team would continue to appeal the decision. They will seek new evidence and new means of prosecution. However, because the Court of Cassation’s decision is final, it is certain that Doğan will now be sent to prison.