Turkey needs deterrent sanctions to stop violence against animals: Activist

Turkey needs deterrent sanctions to stop violence against animals: Activist

Barçın Yinanç - ISTANBUL
Turkey needs deterrent sanctions to stop violence against animals: Activist

Turkey must update its laws to deter perpetrators if it wants to end violence against animals, according to a prominent animal rights activist.

“Currently, violence against a stray animal is not seen as a crime but as misconduct. So, sentences are turned into fines,” said Marmara Animal Rights Federation Executive Board Chair Şebnem Aslan.

“It is considered a crime if the animal has an owner, but the prison sentence for raping an animal that has an owner starts from four months and the person does not even serve jail time since it is turned into a fine,” she added.

Q: Is there a rise in violence against animals or have they become more visible?

A: Due to the internet and smart phones, people have more means of catching incidents on camera and spreading the news, thanks to WhatsApp groups and social media, which then end up in the mass media.

But there is a rise in violence in society in general; we witness violence against women and children. As violence is on the rise, violence against animals is on the rise too. In addition to that, we witness traumatized Syrian children who came to Turkey fleeing war commit violence against animals.

Q: On what do you base your latest point?

A: At least in big cities or in neighborhoods where there is large concentration of refugees, we see a rise in violence against animals. Our representatives and volunteers come across a lot of cases where signs lead to refugee children.

But in general, violence against animals as well as visibility is on the rise. In 2004, the law on protecting animals was endorsed. Since then, activists have stepped up their work as well. As much as there are some good articles on the law, there are some serious shortcoming in terms of sentences and implementation.

One of the shortcomings of the law is the fact that institutions that are supposed to monitor violence do not have punitive mechanisms and the sentences are too short.

That is why since 2009, we have been waging a campaign to improve the law and to increase the sentences. The Agriculture and Forestry Ministry has come up with draft laws since 2012 but until now, as activists, we have blocked the draft, as the sentences foreseen in the draft were never deterrent enough.

Q: Can you elaborate?

A: Currently, violence against a stray animal is not seen as a crime but as misconduct. So, the sentence is turned into a monetary fine. If the animal has an owner, this is seen as physical damage. But the sentence of the rape of an animal which has an owner for instance, starts from four months and the person does not even serve jail time, since it is turned into a monetary fine.

First of all, there should not be a distinction between whether an animal has an owner or not and second, sentences should start from at least two years in a way to have the perpetrator serve jail time for at least a few months and have the sentence registered in their criminal records.

Q: What do you find positive about the current law?

A: Stray animals are the reality in our country. Obviously, ever since Ottoman times, from time to time there were efforts to kill all the stray animals, but it was impossible to totally annihilate them. Stray cats have been in Istanbul since Byzantine times, dogs since the time of Fatih Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror. And people live with them.

Of course, there are some who are afraid of them. But somehow, we have found a way to live with them. Killing stray animals is not a solution. Understanding this reality, the law stipulates for municipalities to neuter stray animals and to leave them where they were found if they are unable to find them owners in 10 days.

Q: In western countries, it seems they euthanize them if they cannot find someone to adopt them.

A: Yes, but in those countries, there are very strict implementations in terms of animal ownership and deterrent sentences. Families who want to have a pet are seriously monitored. You cannot adopt a pet and then leave it in the street when you get bored. There are severe punishments.

This is not the case in Turkey. Families adopt pets and then leave them in the street; when municipalities receive complaints about stray animals, they resort to killing them. This cycle keeps growing and in fact, municipalities are the biggest violator of animal rights in Turkey. They kill and poison stray animals and they are not punished for their action.

Q: Some people complain about dog gangs’ being dangerous for people as they might become aggressive.

A: Aggressive dogs are supposed to be taken for rehabilitation. But there are no such conditions in shelters. And actually, at the tiniest complaint, a dog is taken away; and it is either killed or left in a place where it cannot find food.

Q: But indeed, some people have been attacked by dogs and they do have the right to complain.

A: Yes, but we have to think about why in the first place these dogs are reproducing. According to the law, municipalities need to neuter them.

Municipalities receive tremendous funds from the government and the EU for stray animals, but they do not spend it accordingly. Then dogs reproduce and turn into gangs. Usually in such cases, the alpha dog is taken away from that gang. But the source of the problem lies somewhere else.

We need solutions, like a ban on the sale of animals in pet shops or animal farms, a ban from internet sales and a ban preventing the illegal entry of animals from abroad.

Q: We would rather concentrate on stray animals but how do you see the situation in general?

A: There are too many violations of animal rights. I can actually say the rights of animals of all species are being violated in Turkey. What happens in slaughter houses is morally and even religiously unacceptable. Dairy farms and chicken farms are in abominable conditions. There is not enough monitoring in terms of illegal hunting.

We also have a problem with horses that are used to pulling carriages in places like Istanbul’s Prince Islands. Nowhere in the world do horses pull carriages on such steep hills under such heat nonstop from dawn to dusk. There are 1,500 horses and 300 carriages on the Prince Islands. Each year, 400 new horses are brought to the islands. Why? Because so many numbers die on the islands. The owners of the horses do not understand to care for them properly. We need electric carriages on the islands.

In the last case of anthrax-infected cattle imports from Brazil, we kept warning that animals should not be transported in such conditions. They are transported in unhealthy conditions. Starting in May, when there was (the first known case of imported animals from Brazil), we kept saying the animals would be infected with diseases in such conditions and people would eat the meat of the infected animals. No one listened to us. These animals should have been tested.

Q: In summary, what are your most immediate demands?

A: The Agriculture and Forestry Ministry is the primary authority in implementing laws on animals. But they lack sanction mechanisms. So the law has to give the ministry the power to implement sanctions.

The sentences should be deterrent and should not only target individuals but also official institutions like municipalities. There should be at least a five-year ban on the sale of animals. If people want an animal, they should go to shelters. Those who adopt a pet and then throw them away should be severely punished.

Municipalities should start a wholesale neutering campaign for stray animals with the cooperation of NGOs. But most importantly, the ministry should work with NGOs before preparing and sending the draft to parliament. There was a pledge before elections that the draft law would be the priority after the elections but for instance, no one has even contacted us.

Q: Is your target streets without stray animals?

A: No, this is not our desire and this is not realistic. We are used to living with them. But we need to keep the population under control.

Turkey, animal rights, Marmara Animal Rights Federation, Şebnem Aslan