Animal cruelty has become a central campaign issue in next week’s Turkish presidential election as concerns grow about animal welfare following a spate of attacks against strays.
In recent weeks, stray animals have been subject to a number of violent attacks, including a pup and a kitten having all their feet cut off and the raping of a three-month-old kitten.
A 50-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of sexually abusing the kitten, later claiming that he was “an alcoholic for the past 40 years and he doesn’t remember anything.”
Amid outrage in local media and across social media, campaigners including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have pledged to strengthen animal protection laws.
“In 2004, we passed the Animal Protection Act [No. 5199], the first independent law to protect animals. We will also prioritize the government’s draft, which contains new sanctions on animal rights, in the new period,” Erdoğan said.
Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has also announced they will pursue an animal rights bill as a legislative priority. Under new legislation, legal distinctions between stray animals and those with owners will be abolished.
“I condemn barbarians who have killed a living being this way,” said AKP MP Lütfiye Selva Çam last week. “The first job of parliament when it resumes work will be to pass a new law, which stipulates jail sentences up to 10.5 years for such incidents.”
Opposition candidate for the Republican People’s Party (CHP) Muharrem İnce said that his government would pursue justice for the animals.
“The person who has committed this atrocity will not be allowed to get away with it,” he wrote in a tweet. “Shame on you!”
This sentiment was also echoed by Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) chair Devlet Bahçeli, who said he would tighten the country’s Animal Protection Law.
“I just cannot forget the photo [of that puppy]. We will punish anyone who has killed an animal or a human being,” Bahçeli tweeted last week.
Erdoğan is widely expected to win this weekend’s elections, with initial polls indicating he is on course for a comfortable victory. However, recent polling suggests that his AKP party may fall short of a parliamentary majority in the first round.
There are widespread concerns over the legitimacy of the poll. Pro-Erdogan companies control 90 percent of the country’s media and evidence has surfaced that the government has been censoring some online content. Votes will also be cast under a state of emergency, supposedly to prevent interference from outside groups.
Part of Erdogan’s campaign includes a pledge to implement a range of new constitutional reforms that will give him the sole power to dissolve parliament, issue executive decrees and declare a national state of emergency. It will also provide him with additional powers to appoint his vice president, ministers, senior judges, and other high-level officials.