Turkey’s activists urge parliament to vote for animal rights bill

Turkish animal rights activists are urging lawmakers to vote for a long-awaited legislation that will expand rights of animals, after years of calls for a comprehensive legislation amid cases of violence against animals.

Mustafa Yel, chair of the parliamentary commission investigating animal rights, told reporters in late January that a draft bill could be voted on within two months.

“I think that the bill will be presented to the general assembly (of the parliament) and be voted on subsequently by lawmakers in the upcoming two months, ” said Yel, a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

There is already an existing legislation on animal cruelty but it defines animals as properties instead of living beings. If the bill is adopted, animal cruelty will be considered as a crime and could be punished by laws, explained Yel.

The draft legislation introduces stiffer penalties for violence towards animals. Animal rights defenders, who have been active on social media, have been longing for the bill for years.

“We are certainly not pessimistic, but not overly optimistic as well. In the past several years, we came very close to a final vote but it did not happen for various reasons,” Pelin Sayilgan, the Ankara representative of the Turkish Animal Right Federation (HAYTAP), told Xinhua.

This NGO has been working to raise public awareness on animal rights and environmental causes since 2004 in order to create a more respectful community towards animals in Turkey, a country where stray dogs and cats are an inherent part of daily life in big cities.

The new legislation aims to respond to public outcry after a series of animal murders and mutilations, with many of the perpetrators getting away with fines only.

“This law will be adopted sooner or later, we know it, because the current situation where animal exploitation is rampant can’t go on,” said the activist, calling on lawmakers to listen to the voice of millions of citizens and vote for the draft bill as soon as possible.

Animal rights activists said that the main problem is that Turkish law sees the abuse of a pet as a property violation and it can result in up to three years’ imprisonment.

They are demanding significant changes to the existing law, including increasing the possible prison terms from three to eight years for those who deliberately kill stray or pet animals.

The draft bill was completed after a series of meetings with experts, non-governmental organizations and activists this year, proposing to introduce a fine of 10,000 Turkish Liras (about 1,660 U.S. dollars) to those who abandon their pets.

The bill also suggests prohibiting pet trade, animal circuses and dolphinariums across the country, especially in the touristic southern provinces, and city zoos in which animals are kept in confined spaces.

To stress the importance of animals in everyday life and how they can save human lives, HAYTAP has announced that trained sniffer dogs have saved “at least 32 people” under the rubble of collapsed buildings in Elazig, after a powerful earthquake on Jan. 24 killed 41 people and injured 1,600 others.