ISTANBUL — Handcuffed and naked, Melek Ipek endured a night of beatings, sexual assault and death threats from her husband that left her and their two daughters battered and traumatized. By morning, after he went out and came back to the house, she had picked up a gun and killed him in a struggle.
Ms. Ipek, 31, was detained after calling the police to the scene in the southern Turkish city of Antalya in January. On Monday, she went on trial, charged with murder and facing a life sentence in what is shaping up to be a politically contentious case for women’s rights in the country.
Women’s rights organizations have leapt to support her, saying that she acted in self-defense and had suffered years of abuse by her husband before a long night of torture. If she had been given health care and a psychiatric evaluation after the assault, she would not even be on trial, the Antalya Feminist Collective said in a statement.
For President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the leader of a conservative Islamist movement who has championed the traditional family as the Turkish ideal, episodes like Ms. Ipek’s case have become an increasingly explosive issue. His opponents accuse him of allowing violence against women to soar during his tenure, and women in his own party, if more cautiously, are supporting better protection for women.
266 women were killed in episodes of domestic violence last year. Women’s rights groups say the real toll is much higher, citing their own figures of 370 recorded femicides last year — that is, women murdered by men because they are female — and 171 cases of women who lost their lives in suspicious circumstances. On top of that are women’s suicides that are barely investigated, they say.
a Turkish court in 2017 acquitted two men accused of helping to kill their sister because of her Western lifestyle.
Political opponents and women’s rights campaigners have accused Mr. Erdogan of encouraging the sense of impunity and the subsequent rise in violence by expressing conservative views on women’s role in society and his increasingly authoritarian grip on the judiciary and law enforcement.
In principle, Turkey recognizes women’s rights in legislation and in the Constitution, largely because female activists took part in crafting them, said Hulya Gulbahar, a lawyer who is a member of the Equality Monitoring Platform.
“The issue is,” she said, “as we have seen in the Melek Ipek case, none of the clauses in those laws and the Constitution that are in favor of women are applied.”