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Turkey faces battle to stamp out "honour killings"

Written by: Staff

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey, Apr 7 (Reuters) Fatma's family wanted her killed because they said she was having an adulterous affair while her husband was away doing his military service.

Returning home, the husband preferred to believe his wife's protestations of innocence, but the couple faced ostracism from people in their village who also believed the woman had sullied the family's honour and should pay the ultimate price.

Helped by a women's support group which feared for Fatma's (not her real name) life, the couple were resettled with new identities in Diyarbakir, the largest city in Turkey's poor, mainly Kurdish southeast where they now live.

Some are less fortunate. Experts say about 70 women fall victim to so-called ''honour killings'' in Turkey every year, mostly in the southeast. The true figure may be much higher.

''There are no accurate figures for honour killings. Villages often support a decision by family elders to kill a woman. Such killings can be passed off as something else, like suicide,'' said Naime Kardas of the Ka-Mer group which helped Fatma.

Women may be killed for adultery or extra-marital pregnancy -- often the consequence of rape by a neighbour or family member -- for seeking a divorce or even for simply being seen outside unaccompanied by a male relative or with her head uncovered.

There are signs that Turkey's government, police and non-government organisations are starting to work more effectively to combat this crime, which badly tarnishes the European Union candidate's image as it struggles to improve its human rights record.

NEW IDENTITY PAPERS Ka-Mer is helping to set up similar women's centres in the southeast, complete with telephone hot lines.

Special ''intervention'' teams grouping women activists and representatives of the police, local government and the mosques are being set up to help save women and, if necessary, to resettle them with new identity papers in other parts of Turkey.

In the conservative southeast where religion remains strong, clerics have told the faithful in Friday sermons that honour killings are not sanctioned by the Koran, Islam's holy book.

Under Turkey's new penal code approved last year, those found guilty of honour killings now face life sentences. In the past, judges have often shown leniency towards men who killed wives, daughters or sisters for reasons of ''honour''.

A man who killed his wife and a taxi-driver for having an affair a few years ago was jailed for just two years, said Aytekin Sir, an expert on honour killings at Diyarbakir's Dicle University. Today the man would face 18 years in jail.

More Reuters KD DB0957

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