Page last updated at 17:22 GMT, Friday, 5 February 2010

Turkish girl 'buried alive' in family garden

By Jonathan Head
BBC News, Istanbul


A Turkish teenager found dead in a hole next to her house was probably buried alive, a post-mortem examination has revealed.

Medine Memi, 16, was found in the hole in December. Large amounts of soil were in her lungs and stomach, according to a source who has seen the report.

Her father and grandfather have been arrested, but not charged.

So-called "honour killings" take place every year in Turkey despite government moves to stamp out the practice.

Two months after police found Medine's body buried in the garden of her family home, a team of doctors at a university in Malatya has completed the post-mortem examination.

According to a source who has seen their report, there was only minor bruising on her body, and no evidence of her being drugged.

Concrete covered

Her hands had been tied behind her back, and they discovered large amounts of soil in her lungs and stomach.

The autopsy has concluded that she was almost certainly buried alive.

The police went to her home after a neighbour reported that Medine had not been seen for a month.

They found her body in a hole, newly covered with concrete, next to the hen-house.

A local organisation that campaigns against honour killings said the victim, one of 10 children, had gone three times to the police to complain that she was being beaten, but she was sent back to her family each time.

A member of the organisation visited Medine's mother a few days after her body was found, but she was too distraught to give them much information.

Conservative community

Medine, who had never been to school, lived in Kahta, a town in the mainly Kurdish south-east of Turkey, where most honour killings have taken place.

The town is known for being very conservative and religious; it is a stronghold of the once powerful Naksibendi Islamic sect, which was banned by modern Turkey's founding father Ataturk in 1925 but has revived in recent years.

But while it is true that most such killings are carried out in conservative Muslim communities, the practice is linked more to the customs of this region of Turkey, than to religious belief.

When girls or women are deemed to have stained the family honour, by behaviour as innocent as simply talking to boys, there is strong peer pressure from the community on the male members of the family to restore their honour, say groups working on the issue in the south-east.

The only way allowed by their code is to kill the girl or woman - usually a young man is given the task after a family council meeting, and the method and location of the killing are discussed in detail.

Emotional state

Afterwards, the family will try to pretend she never existed.

The government has tried to curb the practice by changing the guidance given to judges.

In the case of honour killings they are no longer allowed to use mitigating factors like the accused's emotional state to reduce sentences.

But this has so far had a limited impact.

According the statistics from the prime minister's office, there were 16 honour killings in Medine's province of Adiyaman between 2003 and 2007.

NGOs say the official figures are almost certainly too low.

Last year a Turkish man was sentenced to life imprisonment in London for the murder of his 15-year-old daughter a decade earlier. Her body has never been found.

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