by Burak Akinci
ANKARA, Jan. 13 (Xinhua) -- The Turkish government has recently submitted a new draft law to impose jail terms to those found guilty of animal rights abuses.
People found guilty of killing or torturing pet or stray animals will face imprisonment of up to four and a half years, according to the new bill, marking a key change to the country's previous law that did not protect all non-pet animals.
Those found guilty of killing endangered animals will receive up to seven years in jail, according to the new law drafted by the Justice Ministry after a number of recent media reports on animals abuse went viral on social media.
Offenders of killing or torturing animals will be punished with jail terms between four months and three years. The sentence could increase to four and a half years if the suspects were found having harmed more than one animal.
While applauding the changes, animal rights groups warned that courts usually would delay or commute jails terms which were less than two years, and replace the punishment with a fine.
"If this draft is adopted, it would put Turkey ahead of European countries such as the Netherlands, which was considered as a haven for pet animals," Burak Ozguner, an activist from the Animal Rights Monitoring Committee (HAKIM) told Xinhua.
"This (draft law) is the result of years of struggle from rights groups and citizens who want animal abusers to be punished," said Ozguner.
The draft is expected to be discussed at plenary session of the parliament next month and adopted by a large majority to become effective.
Last week, main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Deputy Gulay Yedekci requested parliament to put forward a special bill to protect animals.
Violence against animals has increased in Turkey in recent years because current punishments are not serious enough, she said.
She also stressed that the law should change its expression of animals as "properties."
"The provisions of the present law are not sufficient. The legal rights of all living creatures must be recognized. With this proposal, we want animal rights to be secured. The right to live for animals also needs to be defined legally," Yedekci said.
Animals also suffer on a daily basis in places other than farms, including laboratories, slaughter houses or dolphin shows, according to HAKIM.
It is estimated that there were around 150,000 stray dogs in Istanbul, Turkey's biggest city with a population of some 15 million people.
There is also a cultural dimension to the animal rights issue, as Turkey has a history and culture of enjoying living with cats and dogs on the street, with communities taking care of them.
As weather is getting cold, Turks have built cardboard houses for stray animals to protect them from cold, rain and snow.
"We built them in a hall provided by the Cankaya (Ankara district) municipality, which has been provided free of charge. It is just something extra for the ones who live on the streets, because winter are harsh in this part of the country," said Serdar, a 34-year-old engineer.
He also expressed satisfaction concerning the animal rights draft law, adding "it has finally arrived."
"Violence against animals has become something ordinary in Turkey. This law will be a deterrent," he said.
In recent years, the rise of social media in Turkey has made adoptions of stray animals easier and more frequent in a Muslim nation where pets were considered in the past as "a foreign creature" or "contrary to religious practices".
Hundreds of adoption pages are available on the internet as a general awareness is boosting for animal rights.