Sex Workers Penalized after Business Cards were Deemed ‘Pornographic Material’

Source: İsmail Saymaz, “Seks İşçisinin bastırdığı karta ‘Pornografik Ürün’ Cezası Verildi” (“Sex Workers Penalized after Business Cards were Deemed ‘Pornographic Material’”), radikal.com.tr, December 24, 2014, http://www.radikal.com.tr/turkiye/seks_iscisinin_bastirdigi_karta_pornografik_urun_cezasi_verildi-1257674

19 individuals, consisting of alleged sex workers and those who allegedly printed and distributed their business cards, were handed down prison sentences by an Ankara court yesterday.

An unusual decision was made by a court in Ankara yesterday regarding 19 people – among them sex workers and their acquaintances, who allegedly distributed calling cards in public. These cards, which until today were processed as a misdemeanor for “pollution,” were deemed “pornographic material.” This way the court was able to hand down criminal sentences for “obscenity in places open to children.” The cards’ owner was sentenced to one and a half years of prison time in addition to a 5,000 TL  (2160 USD) penalty, and the person who allegedly distributed the cards was sentenced to two years of prison time as well as a 5,000 TL penalty.

An anonymous tip to the Ankara Police Department in 2012 reported that “passers-by are being harassed by way of dispersing and distributing cards for prostitution in front of businesses, schools and bus stops around the vicinity of the statue in Ulus Square.” The police responded by gathering the cards around the reported area and requested that the Presidency of Telecommunication and Communication determine which women and trans individuals the phone numbers on the cards belonged to. The defendants were then identified.

Ten women and two trans individuals admitted to “earn their living through soliciting sex and printed as well as distributed the said cards to acquire clients.” The printers with initials B.A. and N.A.* admitted to printing cards with obscene content only once. The search conducted at the premises of the printers determined that “pornographic imagery pertaining to lesbian and other unnatural sexual relations were used on the cards subject to the criminal investigation.” Two cards were deemed pornographic material. The investigation also noted that the cards featured sentences such as “would you like to have sex with me?” and “Call me, I’m waiting. Call me.” H.Y., who was accused of conducting prostitution in his hotel, as well as S.B. and L.Ç., who were accused of distributing, denied the charges. The prosecution argued that the cards be considered pornographic material. All suspects were charged with the crime of “producing and distributing obscene imagery.” Two suspects were charged with “facilitating prostitution.”

Rain of Sentences

The Fifth Ankara Criminal Court of First Instance finished court proceedings on November 5th. In its detailed ruling, the court determined that those who printed and distributed the cards partook in the crimes of the card’s owners and remarked “The defendants have been determined to distribute and disperse the cards in places where people of ages pass by and cause a serious disturbance for the people. It is deemed necessary to sentence the defendants considering their significant intent.”

The court ruling sentenced all defendants with 18 months of prison time and pecuniary fine of 5,000 TL on the crime of “obscenity in places open to children.” The defendant who owned the hotel was sentenced to two and a half years of prison time as well as a pecuniary fine of 10,000 TL on the crime of “facilitating prostitution.” One other defendant was sentenced to two years of prison in addition to a 5,000 TL pecuniary fine. The court did not see the need for reduction or postponement of the sentences due to “the defendants’ demeanors during the proceedings, showing lack of any remorse or assurances that they will not repeat these offences.”

“You might as well come down on bathing suit commercials”

Ahmet Toköz, who was the attorney for the alleged sex worker M.B. appealed the ruling. In his appeal, Toköz stated that the concept of obscene was not defined by law and was left at the discretion of the local court. He continued that there was a very thin line between this authority and suppressing the freedom of expression. He indicated that the card in question had a photograph of his client with a bathing suit and a telephone number. Toköz said, “If my client’s card is deemed as obscene material, then all similar imagery including sexual impotency warnings on cigarette packages, bathing suit commercials, lingerie fashion shows, cinematic and literary works or even shop fronts should be declared obscene. A lot of works can be judged with this in mind.”

*Initials used because the case is ongoing.

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