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As our regular readers know, TOL normally does not cover Turkey, unless an issue concerns one of the countries we do cover in post-communist Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia. However, through the fall and perhaps beyond, we are making an exception because of the dire situation faced by many journalists in Turkey since the attempted coup in 2016. After that dramatic event, almost 200 media outlets were closed down and scores of critically minded journalists lost their jobs and now struggle to eke out an existence. We are proud to provide some international exposure to many of these Turkish reporters and expand, at least for now, our mission of supporting independent journalism and the freedom of the media to this fascinating and important part of the world.
The case of a mutilated puppy in northwestern Turkey that shocked the country this summer has also put its inadequate animal welfare legislation in the spotlight.
Close to death, having had all four paws and its tail cut off, the stray dog was found in the woods in the Sapanca district of the Sakarya province on 16 June. Although the dog was immediately taken to a vet for treatment, it did not survive its massive injuries and died two days later.
After photos of the bandaged puppy went viral on social media, the brutal case even became an election issue, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledging to prioritize animal rights and tighten up existing legislation if he was re-elected on 24 June.
Animal rights activists say that the main problem is that Turkish law treats killing a stray animal as a misdemeanour punishable only by a fine, rather than as a crime. Mistreatment of a pet is viewed as a property violation and can result in up to three years’ imprisonment.
Pressure groups are demanding significant changes to the existing law, including increasing the possible prison term from three to eight years for those who deliberately kill stray or pet animals.
In addition, campaigners want a sentence of between two to five years for those who mistreat or neglect animals and a two- to seven-year term for those who organize fights between animals.
The Turkish Bar Association is also backing animal rights activists in their demands to change the existing law and has requested government permission to intervene directly in cases when animals’ rights have been violated.
In the case of the puppy, a bulldozer operator was arrested on suspicion of causing the injuries as he worked in the woods. The minister of interior, Suleyman Soylu, said at the time that he had no doubt that it was the bulldozer that injured the dog.
The driver was kept in custody for eight days before being released due to lack of evidence on 26 June, two days after the elections.
Deniz Tavsancil Kalafatoglu, vice president of the animal rights department of the Istanbul Bar Association, explained that the law as it stood was rarely enforced.
Those who kill or torture someone’s pet can receive a sentence of between four months and three years in prison for “damaging another person’s property.” Such sentences are rarely imposed, with fines much more common, he said.
Kalafatoglu noted that stray animals had even less protection.
“No matter what crime is committed against a stray or wild animal, the perpetrator will be punished only by an administrative fine. In our view, these penalties cannot deter future crimes,” he said.
He suggests that special police units be set up to deal with crimes involving killing and torturing animals.
“The police should not see this as an additional burden, as they see it now,” he said.
Although Erdogan, as predicted, did win re-election, there has been no further movement on reform to the existing legislation on animal welfare.
Kalafatoglu said that in addition to new legislation, a program of public education, particularly for children, was essential for real change.
“The Ministry of National Education should inform children at schools about animals’ rights and how to protect them,” he continued. “That’s the only long-term solution.”
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