Activists Expect Positive Revisions To Controversial Animal Protection Bill
Animal rights organizations recently had talks with top officials from the government on planned revisions to an animal protection bill that was withdrawn in October due to public outrage, considered a sign that civil society’s demands may finally be met in the new bill.
Ahmet Kemal Şenpolat, chairman of Turkey’s Animal Rights Federation (HAYTAP) and a lawyer, is hopeful that an amendment meeting the demands of animal rights organizations will be presented to Parliament as a consequence of their talks. However, he is being cautious since the agenda of politics might change at any time.
Speaking to Sunday’s Zaman, “We had long negotiations for hours with top officials,” he said. “All four parties in Parliament agreed on the changes we asked. So the revision on the bill is probably going to be the way we demand, and I want to trust them. But it is politics and everything can change, so we haven’t issued any public announcements yet.”
Regarding the planned amendment to the bill, Şenpolat says pet shops and dolphin parks are set to be banned. As for a major change, people who torture animals will be punished under the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) instead of the misdemeanor law. According to current legislation, one can only resort to the misdemeanor law for animal abusers, which means there is no judicial process and the crime does not get on criminal record.
Şenpolat says animal torture is deemed equal to spitting on the streets, yelling or smoking in a confined space, when punished under the misdemeanor law.
With the reform, after crimes against animals are regulated under the TCK, the sentence will go into the criminal record of the perpetrator, although prison sentences might be converted into fines if they are less than two years.
In early September, the Ministry of Forestry and Waterworks drafted an amendment that would make changes to Turkey’s Animal Protection Law No. 5199, seeking to introduce practices such as collecting stray animals from the streets and euthanizing members of the “excess” population.
The bill was initially developed as a response to the long-standing problem of Turkish legislation treating animal abuse as a misdemeanor. Therefore, the new bill was believed to have been drafted to criminalize animal abuse under the TCK.
However, animal rights organizations drew attention to the downsides of the amendment, which is considered a violation of stray animals’ right to life.
Following the presentation of the bill to Parliament on Sept. 12, civil society decided to take action by firstly collecting thousands of signatures for a petition opposing the bill. Soon after, 14 provinces including İstanbul simultaneously saw thousands of people marching in a show of protest against the planned amendments to the Animal Protection Law, on Sept. 30.
In İstanbul’s Taksim neighborhood, approximately 50,000 people marched with the support of many nongovernmental organizations. The media was criticized for not covering the huge protest extensively, while the congress of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), also held on the same day, had been broadcast.
The efforts animal rights organizations had made reaped some rewards, as the AK Party government withdrew the bill from Parliament on Oct. 2 in order to make a revision. The bill is expected to be presented once more, after some revisions.
Parliamentary commission should be established for animals
Touching upon another controversial issue, vivisection, she says an animal is subjected to experiments more than once, until the animal ends up cut into parts, in some Turkish universities. Ardahanlı especially accuses Gazi University of the practice, for turning it into a business.
She says the withdrawn bill totally eliminated animals used for experiments from the protection of law, requiring no veterinarians during the experiments.
Another violation of animal rights in the withdrawn bill was about the restriction of the number of pets people own, enabling the government to determine the number, according to Ardahanlı, who says it means forbidding people to take care of animals even at home.
4 August 2013 /GÜNAY HİLAL AYGÜN, İSTANBUL