Public Outcry in Turkey After Trans Activist Raped and Burned to Death

Following the horrific news of Turkish trans activist Hande Kader's rape and murder, hundreds took to the streets to protest. We talked to those fighting for LGBT equality in Turkey about the state of violence against trans people in the country.

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Aug 22 2016, 2:05pm

Image by Ozan Kose via Getty Images

Friends last saw 23-year-old trans activist and sex worker Hande Kader getting into an unknown client's car. Days later, her body was identified at a city morgue; she'd been raped and burned to death.

A prominent voice within the Istanbul LGBT community, Kader was filmed and photographed confronting police at Gay Pride Istanbul in June 2015. One photograph—of a distressed-looking Kader being pulled away by law enforcement—has circulated widely on social media following her murder. Another video, filmed at the same protest, shows Kader and a fellow activist being fired on by water cannons and rubber pellets as crowds chant behind them.

Speaking to the BBC, Kader's roommate Davut Dengiler described her as "one of the nicest people in the world. She was very calm normally but also hyperactive. She always went to the LGBTI marches. She pursued a cause that she felt right until the end."

Read more: The Murder of Keisha Jenkins and the Violent Reality for Trans Women of Color

The tragic irony of this outspoken advocate for LGBT rights herself being the subject of a horrific hate crime has not been lost on Turkey's activist community. On Thursday, a coalition of activists held a press conference calling on the Turkish Parliament to do more to uphold transgender rights. In a statement, activists demanded "justice for all that lost their lives for being a woman, a trans, or a gay."

On the evening of August 21, hundreds of protestors heeded that call. More than 200 people turned out, reports Al Jazeera, for a peaceful march down Istanbul's Istiklal Avenue. They bore slogans reading "Justice for Hande; Justice for Everyone." Meanwhile, the hashtag #HandeKadereSesVer (which translates to "give voice to Hande Kader") trended on Twitter.

Credit: Sener Yilmaz Aslan / Moku

Violence against sex workers, women, and LGBT people like Kader is unfortunately not uncommon. Last month, gay Syrian refugee Muhammed Wisam Sankari was raped and murdered in Istanbul. According to Transgender Europe, there were more murders of transgender people in Turkey than anywhere else in Europe, with 43 deaths between 2008 and April 2016; however, many deaths also likely go unreported.

"The murder of trans people is not surprising news for us here in Turkey," says Sinem Hun, a lawyer specializing in transgender rights based in Ankara. "Some are reported, some are not." She tells Broadly she hears of around three or four cases involving violence against trans women a month.

While on paper trans people broadly enjoy many legal rights in Turkey, Hun explains that the judicial system often fails to the criminal code. "The problem isn't with the laws in Turkey, it's with their application and the mindset of the judges. Some judges can be quite transphobic." She calls for greater education for judges and prosecutors in response to institutional transphobic mentalities, and for hate crimes based on gender identity and sexual orientation to be specifically recognized under Turkish law.

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Hun also highlight how Article 40 of Turkey's civil code requires trans people to be sterilized as a compulsory part of gender reassignment policy. "This constitutes a basic human rights violation," she tells me. In addition, the process for legal recognition can take up to five or six years.

Meanwhile, some radical Islamist groups ferment hatred against LGBT groups. "Last summer after the Pride marches, Islamic groups published horrific statements encouraging the murder of LGBT people."

According to Hun, the violence Turkish trans women face often pushes them to sex work. "It's almost compulsory," Hun explains. "[Trans sex workers] lack education so can't find jobs easily, and very high transphobia prevents them from getting a job." According to Hun's estimates, around 60 percent of trans women are engaged in sex work.

The solution? "We need a holistic policy for the fight against hate crimes and trans people," Hun argues.