A Turkish man who walked free from prison despite murdering two wives has been arrested for killing his third wife in a case that activists say starkly illustrates how the Turkish authorities fail to protect women at risk as femicide remains rampant in the country.
Last week police found the body of Mutlu Menekse, 48, in a decrepit building in the western province of Manisa and quickly detained Necati Akpinar as the sole suspect, acting on a tip-off from witnesses. In his questioning by police, the 58-year-old confessed to fatally hitting Menekse in the head with a blunt object during an argument, officials from the Manisa Bar Association who follow the case told Al-Monitor. The man described Menekse as his wife, the sources said, though the couple had had only a religious wedding ceremony, a practice widespread but not officially recognized in Turkey.
The case triggered public outrage and sent women's rights activists up in arms as it emerged that Akpinar had already been sentenced to life twice for murdering two spouses in a row. He and Menekse had reportedly begun to live together only about a month before.
Akpinar’s story speaks volumes of why femicides remain rampant in Turkey despite the introduction of legal measures to protect women over the years. Akpinar was granted release on probation in 2020 under a law to reduce jail populations during the COVID-19 pandemic. He was able to benefit from the law because he had been transferred to an open prison, where well-behaved inmates are generally held, while serving his second sentence. He had stabbed his second wife to death after injuring her with a hot iron in 2003, according to Turkish press reports. Only three years earlier, he had walked free under an amnesty law after stabbing his first wife to death in 1984.
Just days before Menekse’s murder, a mother of three was fatally shot in Ankara by her ex-husband, who had similarly benefitted from conditional release during the pandemic while serving a sentence for domestic violence.
Women’s groups had campaigned fervently against the pandemic-related release of perpetrators of violent crimes against women, but to no avail. Worse, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pulled Turkey out from the Istanbul Convention, a Council of Europe agreement to combat violence against women, in 2021, even though femicide and domestic violence remain pressing problems in the country.
More than 300 women were killed in Turkey in 2022 by their spouses, partners, exes or male relatives, according to a tally by the We Will Stop Femicide Platform, a civic group dedicated to fighting violence against women.
Lawyer Hulya Gulbahar, a prominent women’s rights activist, lamented that Menekse and other slain women could be alive today had the government heeded the calls against such prisoner releases and stuck to the Istanbul Convention.
The convention, for instance, requires that victims of domestic violence and relatives at risk are informed when a perpetrator is released from prison, among other safeguards for women. “That’s why we say that the Istanbul Convention is about keeping women alive,” Gulbahar told Al-Monitor.
Canan Gullu, head of the Women’s Associations Federation of Turkey, stressed that Turkish law lacks the concept of gender-based violence, which hampers efforts to combat male violence against women. “That’s why offenders get away with their crimes, benefitting from various loopholes in the penal system, just as in the murder of Mutlu Menekse. Her murderer killed twice and walked free to kill for a third time. And we know he’ll walk free again someday,” she told Al-Monitor.
A key problem, critics say, is that the authorities often fail to act efficiently the first time a woman reports abuse or to properly enforce protective measures. In a striking example, Beyza Dogan, a 16-year-old from Istanbul, was shot dead by her stalker in August despite 35 complaints and a restraint order against the man. Similarly, 52-year-old Hulya Sellavci was shot dead by her husband in Izmir, western Turkey, in October, though she had lodged four criminal complaints about being threatened after filing for divorce.
The Istanbul Convention, activists say, showed a way for the authorities to improve their response, though its implementation remained uneven in the decade that Turkey was party to it.
In a dark irony, Turkey’s top administrative court issued a final ruling upholding Ankara’s decision to withdraw from the convention on Monday, the day Menekse was laid to rest in her hometown.