In Turkey, the death of a stray cat sparks outcry

Image by Arzu Geybullayeva

Animal rights activists in Turkey are dissatisfied with a sentence handed to Ibrahim Keloğlan, a man who kicked a stray cat named Eros to death in December 2023. On March 13, the court sentenced Keloğlan to three years in prison, but citing good behavior, that was reduced to a two-year and six-month suspended sentence with no jail time and a travel ban. Social media has been abuzz with the hashtag #erosiçinadalet (justice for Eros).

Keloğlan was first charged on February 8 and given a sentence of one year and three months of jail time by the Küçükçekmece Criminal Court of First Instance. This is a reduced sentence that the court justified by citing the perpetrator's remorse and absence of any prior offenses. This sentence was then overturned by the upper court following public outcry, and he went back to trial.

On the day of the most recent trial, scores of animal rights activists and pet lovers (some who came in solidarity with their pets) arrived at the court building.

Goodness, Eros's friends came to support.

Officials were forced to move the hearing to a larger courtroom due to the large turnout, according to reporting by Bianet.

Numerous political parties, bar associations, and animal rights organizations requested to attend the trial, however, their requests were denied on the grounds that none of them were harmed in the crime.

According to lawyer Ilke Acar, who has been following the trial closely, Keloğlan, in his statement in court on March 13, said he committed the act “in a moment of anger” and that since his first hearing, he has distributed cat food and made donations to animal shelters, adding, “it felt like a therapy” to him.

The complainant's lawyers said, if the defendant had killed a child, and later said he/she donated for another child's education, “would that be taken into account? If the defendant was remorseful, why did he not surrender himself to the authorities? His allegations are not sincere or true, we demand that he is tried in custody,” according to reporting by BBC Turkce.

As a result, the prosecutor requested the highest sentence on the grounds that Keloğlan chased the cat and then killed it in a brutal manner.

Joining supportive action calling for justice was Galatasaray's player Mauro Icardi, who posed on his social with two cats, one with a sign “Today for Eros, Tomorrow for us, #justiceforeros” hanging over one of the cat's neck.

Sarper Duman, a musician and animal rescuer who has over 1 million followers on Instagram, shared a post in response to the court's decision:

The murderer who kicked and killed a cat that lived in a residential complex and did not harm anyone was released. There is no justice system in this country that protects stray animals!

“The sentence imposed is the highest ever under the Animal Welfare Act,” tweeted Minister of Justice Yılmaz Tunç following the court's decision, with a pledge to
“to continue to stand against all kinds of ill-treatment towards” strays whom the minister described as “our dear friends” in the same tweet.

Animal rights activists disagree. Ahmet Kemal Şenpolat, Haytap Animal Rights Federation President, said,] the court's decision won't change people who will “continue to torture animals deliberately.”

Turkey adopted its first animal protection bill in 2004. According to Article 28/a of Law No. 5199, cruel treatment of animals and deliberate killing of animals is considered a crime.  in 2021, the Turkish parliament approved a new bill on animal rights. The law banned the sale of all cats and dogs at pet shops, classifying them as “living beings” rather than commodities, and made animal abuse punishable by up to four years in prison.  The act also required pet owners to register their pets with digital IDs.

It’s quite common in Turkey to see people caring for street animals by feeding them and building them homes on the streets. Some of these street animals have their own statues, while others have turned into popular mascots for local municipalities. And there are at least two documentary films, “Kedi” and “Stray,” portraying the lives of street animals in the country. Following the devastating February 2023 earthquake, the story of a fireman adopting a rescued cat warmed hearts across the country.

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