A nation already dealing with shocking cases of violence against women was stunned Saturday when Turkey's president withdrew from an international treaty to protect women. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued the decree early in the day, and protesters immediately took to the streets of Istanbul, the BBC reports. An opposition leader said the decision is about "keeping women second-class citizens and letting them be killed." In 2011, Turkey was the first nation to sign the Council of Europe Convention, the first binding treaty to prevent domestic violence in the world. It's also intended to bring an end to legal impunity for perpetrators, per CNN. The head of Europe's main human rights organization called Erdogan's decision "devastating" to widespread campaigns against domestic violence. "This move is a huge setback to these efforts and all the more deplorable because it compromises the protection of women in Turkey, across Europe and beyond," said Marija Pejcinovic Buric of the Council of Europe.
Erdogan did not explain his decision. Turkish conservatives say the treaty's support for gender equality and opposition to bias over sexual orientation promote homosexuality and threaten family values. Cabinet members tried to assure the nation Saturday that women's legal protections will remain. "The guarantee of women's rights are present in our current laws and especially in our constitution," said the minister for family and social policies. She said the government will maintain its policy of zero tolerance on domestic violence. Advocates say the number of women killed in domestic violence in Turkey isn't known, though the estimated total was at least 300 last year. A 2018 death drew national attention and led to public demonstrations. The victim was raped in a high-rise office building and thrown out a window to make her death look like suicide. Two men received jail terms in the crime. (Read more Turkey stories.)