ISTANBUL (AP) — Muhterem Evcil was stabbed to death by her estranged husband at her workplace in Istanbul, where he had repeatedly harassed her in breach of a restraining order. The day before, authorities detained him for violating the order but let him go free after questioning.

More than a decade later, her sister believes Evcil would still be alive if authorities had enforced laws on protecting women and jailed him.

“As long as justice is not served and men are always put on the forefront, women in this country will always cry," Cigdem Kuzey said.

Evcil's murder in 2013 became a rallying call for greater protection for women in Turkey, but activists say the country has made little progress in keeping women from being killed. They say laws to safeguard women are not sufficiently enforced and abusers are not prosecuted.

At least 403 women were killed in Turkey last year, most of them by current or former spouses and other men close to them, according to the We Will Stop Femicides Platform, a group that tracks gender-related killings and provides support to victims of violence.

So far this year 71 women have been killed in Turkey, including seven on Feb. 27 — the highest known number of such killings there on a single day.

The WWSF secretary general, Fidan Ataselim, attributed the killings to deeply patriarchal traditions in the majority Muslim country and to a greater number of women wishing to leave troubled relationships. Others want to work outside the home.

“Women in Turkey want to live more freely and more equally. Women have changed and progressed a lot in a positive sense,” Ataselim said. “Men cannot accept this, and they are violently trying to suppress the progress of women.”

Turkey was the first country to sign and ratify a European treaty on preventing violence against women — known as the Istanbul Convention — in 2011. But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan withdrew Turkey from it 10 years later, sparking protests.

The president's decision came after pressure from Islamic groups and some officials from Erdogan’s Islam-oriented party. They argued that the treaty was inconsistent with conservative values, eroded the traditional family unit and encouraged divorce.

Erdogan has said he believes that men and women were not biologically created as equals and that a woman’s priority should be her family and motherhood.

The president insists that Turkey does not need the Istanbul Convention, and has vowed to “constantly raise the bar” in preventing violence against women. Last year, his government strengthened legislation by making persistent stalking a crime punishable by up to two years in prison.

Mahinur Ozdemir Goktas, the minister for family affairs, says she has made protecting women a priority and personally follows trials.

“Even if the victims have given up on their complaints, we continue to follow them,” she said. “Every case is one too many for us.”

Ataselim said the Istanbul Convention was an additional layer of protection for women and is pressing for a return to the treaty. Her group is also calling for the establishment of a telephone hotline for women facing violence and for the opening of more women’s shelters, saying the current number is far from meeting demand.

Most of all, existing measures should be adequately enforced, Ataselim said.

Activists allege that courts are lenient toward male abusers who claim they were provoked, express remorse or show good behavior during trials. Activists say restraining orders are often too short and those who violate them are not detained, putting women at risk.

“We believe that each of the femicide cases were preventable deaths,” Ataselim said.

Each year, women’s activists in Turkey take to the streets on International Women’s Day on March 8 and on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on Nov. 25, demanding greater protection for women and Turkey’s return to the treaty.

Turkish authorities regularly ban such rallies on security and public order grounds.

Demonstrators often carry signs that read: “I don’t want to die” -- the last words uttered by Emine Bulut, who died in a cafe in Kirikkale in central Turkey after her husband slit her throat in front of her 10-year-old daughter. Her death in 2019 shocked the nation.

Evcil, killed in a salon where she worked as a manicurist, suffered physical and mental abuse after eloping at 18 to marry her husband, who is currently serving a life sentence in prison, her sister Kuzey said. Evcil decided to leave him after 13 years of marriage.

Kuzey described her sister as a kind woman who “smiled even when she was crying inside.”

Authorities have named a park in Istanbul in Evcil's memory.

“My hope is that our daughters don't experience what we have experienced and justice comes to this country,” Kuzey said.


Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey.

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