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Should Turkey Reinstate The Death Penalty?




By Ceylan Ozbudak

21 February 2015

Last week, the people of Turkey were emotionally shaken by the attempted rape and murder by a minibus driver of a 20-year-old university student named Özgecan Aslan. Özgecan’s horrific death sparked nationwide protests concerning violence against women and calls for the reinstatement of the capital punishment in Turkey, which was abolished in 2004.

There are many reasons why what happened to Özgecan sparked such highly poignant responses. She was an angelic, lively young woman, a successful and genuinely beautiful university student who was simply trying to go home on the night of her killing.

The prime suspect, Suphi Altındöken, a minibus driver, tried to rape her; and is accused of killing her for resisting, dismembering and burning her body in an attempt to destroy any evidence. Altındöken’s father and one friend stand accused of helping him dispose of the body. In front of the courthouse, the suspects were almost lynched and still to this date, no lawyer has come forward to defend the trio.

In this emotive environment, Özgecan’s death also started a nationwide debate on the reinstatement of capital punishment. Even some politicians like Aysenur Islam, the Family and Social Policies Minister of Turkey, expressed support for the reinstatement of the death sentences for such cases as a deterrent.

Capital Punishment in Turkey

Judicial killing has not been carried out in Turkey since 1986, even though it was abolished in 2000 in principle and in 2004 Turkey permanently abolished the death penalty in perpetuity to ratify to the European Convention on Human Rights after Ankara’s candidacy for EU membership was initiated. Turkey thus became the first Muslim majority country to abolish the death penalty. What happened to Özgecan is evil and revenge is tempting, but this is when we must be most measured and reflective about second and third tier effects of making law by emotion.

Statistically Ineffective

Those who are in favor of the death penalty claim the punishment will be a deterrent for such cases in the future. However, the statistical data suggests otherwise. The death penalty was ranked last when police chiefs were asked to name one issue as “the most important for reducing violent crime,” with only one percent listing it as the best way to reduce violence. The death penalty came in behind needing more police officers; reducing drug abuse; a better economy and more jobs and longer prison sentences. Almost 6 in 10 police chiefs (57%) agreed that the death penalty does little to prevent violent crimes because the perpetrators rarely consider the consequences when engaged in such violence.

The Purpose of Law Enforcement

If the basis for law enforcement is to prevent crime and create a safe environment for citizens, life in prison without the possibility of parole also guarantees no future crimes. If we are after a moral society where human rights are held in high esteem, clearly capital punishment is against the Fifth Article of the International Declaration of Human Rights. Organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are working against the death penalty across the world. As a result, it is no longer practiced in most developed societies.

Moral Ground

Most importantly, capital punishment is, when all is said and done, state sanctioned murder; it is the practice of taking the life of a human being willfully and with intent. Seeking comfort through actions that we would normally qualify as crimes or atrocities (i.e. murder) eliminates the possibility of social reconciliation in society. How can we give permission for someone to kill another because that person committed a crime and even pay for this “service?”

In democracies, if “we the people” are the “state” then when the “state” kills, don’t we all become participants? We do not torture prisoners as it is considered inhumane treatment of persons under captivity; in the same manner, executing prisoners is the ultimate in inhumane treatment to persons under captivity.

PKK and Capital Punishment

On another note, if Turkey is going to discuss reinstating the death penalty, the discussion would also likely involve the PKK terrorist leader Abdullah Öcalan, who is directly responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of people. Contrary to popular propaganda, Abdullah Öcalan was not sentenced to life imprisonment because he is a political prisoner: It was because he is a proven mass murderer.

Since the Turkish government’s reconciliation talks with Kurdish groups are still on the table, the state of Öcalan and his ilk should be a concern regarding reinstating capital punishment. Let’s not forget that Öcalan had already been sentenced to death in 1999 after being nabbed by Turkish Special Forces in Kenya but his sentence was commuted to life in prison after the abolition of death penalty.

These points bring us to the question: “What can be done to prevent future Özgecan Aslan cases?” As a voice of reason, Özgecan’s father also thinks capital punishment is no use for the slain. He said in an interview; “[The death penalty] may return to dissuade, but it is not a solution ... People should learn to control themselves instead.” Nobody is born a felon, but they can be influenced and educated to become one. It is nurture, not nature that is to blame. We can raise the bar of public security through various measures, but first of all, we need to educate our youth to respect human dignity, the sanctity of life and to understand our origin in Divine creation. If we spend all our time and resources seeking vengeance rather than rooting out the reasons and ideas that create criminality, we will end up in a society full of mourning families on both sides.

Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. As a representative of Harun Yahya organization, she frequently cites quotations from the author in her writings.