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19th Oct 2019

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Brussels alarmed by Turkish police violence

  • Transgendered people have a rough time in Turkey (Photo: RAFIK BERLIN)

Five Turkish transgendered people are set to go on trial on Thursday (21 October) on charges of resisting police and may face of up to three years in prison, in a case which could negatively impact the EU's yearly assessment of Turkey's progress toward accession.

According to the Ankara-based transgender rights group Pembe Hayat (Pink Life), police stopped the five in May, accused them of being prostitutes, pulled them out of their car by the hair, beat them with batons and sprayed them with tear gas.

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Five international NGOs, including the New-York-based Human Rights Watch and the Brussels-situated ILGA-Europe, in a joint letter this week called on the Turkish authorities to drop the charges and to hold the police officers accountable.

They said that about a dozen transgendered people, most of them prostitutes, have been attacked and killed in Turkey over the past few years.

"The case of the five transgender persons who will stand trial later this week for resisting the police is well known to us and we have made our concerns known to our Turkish counterparts," Angela Filote, the spokeswoman for EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele told this website.

"We are also concerned about cases of violent assault and killing of transgendered [people] and transvestites. Such cases need to be promptly investigated by the judicial authorities such that the perpetrators are put on trial and that crimes against transgender persons and transvestites are prevented."

Equality and human rights are an essential criteria of EU law, which Turkey has to transpose during its accession negotiations. The next annual report on the country's EU progress is due to be published on 9 November.

Turkey's ambassador to the EU, Selim Kuneralp, seems confident the recent case - which he calls an "isolated incident" - will not have a big impact on the overall assessment.

"The commission reports do refer to these issues. The reports say Turkey is sufficiently-well fulfilling the Copenhagen Criteria for accession talks to continue," he told EUobserver, referring to a set of EU criteria on democratic, human rights and economic standards.

The Turkish diplomat said Turkey's recently-adopted constitutional reform package contains provisions eliminating various types of discrimination, including on the basis of gender or sexual orientation.

Mr Kuneralp admitted that "culture is another thing" and that it will take time for these values to be "instilled" in society, however.

"The government is making a lot of effort to educate judges and lawyers and members of the security forces on these issues. To be frank, it would be difficult to argue that the situation is worse here in Turkey than in other countries in Europe," he argued.

The commission's response to the constitutional reform package also stresses the importance of implementation.

"More efforts are needed in Turkey to turn the constitutional provision on anti-discrimination into reality," Ms Filote said.

One such step would be the establishment of an anti-discrimination and equality board, tasked with looking into discrimination issues on the ground of sexual orientation, she added: "We hope that the draft law for the establishment of this institution will soon be sent to parliament for adoption."

In previous reports, the commission has reminded Turkey of its obligation to provide genuine protection to minorities, including lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgendered people (LGBT).

The European Parliament reaffirmed the obligation in February, saying that the protection of LGBT minorities is a non-negotiable condition for joining the European Union.

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