Com­pul­so­ry jail « com­mon out­fits » are back in the news. In the eight­ies, this cus­tom led to long and intense resis­tance, legal bat­tles and hunger strikes in pris­ons, lead­ing to the sup­pres­sion of this humil­i­at­ing and iniq­ui­tous prac­tice, but not before it had caused sev­er­al deaths.

Prisoner Uniforms back in the news

The first hear­ings have begun in the tri­als rel­a­tive to those accused of the July 15th 2016 failed coup attempt.

Dur­ing a hear­ing in the FETÖ tri­al, (the acronym stands for Fetullah’s ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion, the leader of which, Fetul­lah Gülen, Erdoğan’s for­mer friend and fel­low trav­eller is now pub­lic ene­my num­ber one) one of the accused appeared before the court in Muğla wear­ing a T‑Shirt bear­ing the word “HERO” print­ed in big let­ters. This led to rais­ing from the vaults this ancient repres­sive prison cus­tom of « wear­ing a uniform ».

Erdoğan com­ment­ed in that direc­tion in his speech com­mem­o­rat­ing July 15th, pay­ing trib­ute to the « courage » of the « Turk­ish Nation», “bas­tion against the putschists“, inscrib­ing a “new leg­end in His­to­ry ». He announced : “I spoke to our Prime Min­is­ter recent­ly and told him that when those ones (the accused) appear before the Court, let’s bring them like they do in Guan­tanamo, in uniforms. »

Numan Kur­tul­muş, the gov­ern­ment spokesman, then also declared that the gov­ern­ment was at work on this project. “The fact those ones [the accused] appear before the courts in a com­mon out­fit is indeed the most cor­rect way. Our Min­istry of Jus­tice is work­ing on it ».

Inau­gu­rat­ing the sta­di­um in Hatay, Erdoğan repeat­ed the same thing on August 5th : “… But now, to those, we will bring the com­mon out­fit. The com­mon out­fit ! Col­or­wise, do you pic­ture the col­or of almonds ? It will be in a slight­ly dark­er shade of almond. They will be of two kinds. There will be a full body suit. And there will be a set with pants and vest. One part of them, let’s say the putschists, will wear the full body suit and the oth­ers, that is to say the ter­ror­ists, will wear the pants and vest. From now on, they can no longer dress as they choose and show up [in court] that way. And in this fash­ion will those ones be dis­played to the world. » (video)

Prison Hunger strikes

We should recall that hunger strikes have a long his­to­ry as a form of protest in Turk­ish jails. They began in the thir­ties with the incar­cer­a­tion of the poet Nâzım Hik­met, mov­ing on to Deniz Gezmiş, Yusuf Aslan, Hüseyin İnan before their exe­cu­tion in 1972. Two impor­tant waves in the eight­ies and in 2000 result­ed in sev­er­al vic­tims. And today, Nuriye Gül­men and Semih Öza­kça, two teach­ers fired by decree, con­tin­ue their hunger strike in prison.

But let’s take a clos­er look at the hunger strikes that raised, among oth­er demands, the sup­pres­sion of prison uniforms.

After the mil­i­tary putsch of Sep­tem­ber 12 1980, the uni­form was imposed for the first time in Sul­tanah­met prison (Istan­bul). From there the prac­tice slow­ly spread to the oth­er men’s pris­ons. Seri­ous forms of protest, includ­ing hunger strikes and « fast­ing to the death » [a hunger strike with no inges­tion of sug­ared or salt­ed water] took place against this prac­tice. Detainees refus­ing to wear the uni­form were sent to soli­tary con­fine­ment. The jails of Metris (Istan­bul), of Mamak (Ankara) and of Diyarbakır were on the front lines of this resis­tance. A hunger strike began in Metris in 1984. 400 pris­on­ers took part. After 45 days, it was trans­formed into a « fast­ing to the death » in which Abdul­lah Mer­al, Hay­dar Başbağ, Fatih Öktülmüş and Hasan Tel­ci lost their lives.

In 1985, 35 detainees were still on hunger strike in Metris. In Feb­ru­ary 1986 the manda­to­ry wear­ing of the uni­form was aban­doned there. In July 1987, 50 pris­on­ers began a hunger strike in the Sağ­macılar prison and this resis­tance spread to the oth­er pris­ons in Ana­to­lia. Fol­low­ing talks held with the author­i­ties by rep­re­sen­ta­tives of TAYAD (sol­i­dar­i­ty asso­ci­a­tion with the fam­i­lies of pris­on­ers), the pris­on­ers’ demands were accept­ed and the hunger strikes came to an end on August 13 1987. In 1988, in Diyarbakır jail, pris­on­er Mehmet Emin Yavuz also died fol­low­ing a hunger strike. Topaç, the Min­is­ter of Jus­tice at the time, had once again ordered the com­pul­so­ry wear­ing of a prison uni­form but this order was nev­er exe­cut­ed because of the hunger strikes in sev­er­al prisons .

For details and a timetable of these protests and hunger strikes in Turkey up until 2002, you can have a look at this brochure in pdf format (in French).

Pho­to­graph tak­en by jour­nal­ist Deniz Tez­tel at the first hear­ing of the tri­al against the THKP‑C (the Par­ty and Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Front for the Lib­er­a­tion of the Peo­ple) dur­ing which the accused, hav­ing refused to wear the uni­form, faced the judges in their underwear.

Ertuğrul Mavioğlu’s Testimony

Ertuğrul Mavioğlu is a jour­nal­ist and the author, among oth­er books, of a series of three under the title “The Sep­tem­ber 12th Set­tling of Scores” (The book is avail­able in Turk­ish and in pdf for­mat HERE). The first tome deal­ing with this peri­od is titled : “Those who were not hung, but fed », a ref­er­ence to the words* of Kenan Evren, Chief of staff of the 1980 mil­i­tary coup d’Etat, and lat­er Pres­i­dent of the Republic.

*Kenan Evren had said “We shouldn’t hang them, but feed them maybe ? », referring to Erdal Eren, a activist with the TDKP (Turkish Revolutionary Communist Party) arrested with 24 others during a demonstration and charged with the murder of a soldier at this same demonstration. Erdal , 16,was executed by hanging on December 1980, after his age was modified to allow for the execution.

In jail at the time, Ertuğrul Mavioğlu writes in his book, “Dur­ing this peri­od, wear­ing a uni­form was part of the attempt to deper­son­al­ize and stan­dard­ize pris­on­ers, at the heart of all the offensives.

On August 17 1983, fol­low­ing decree 13–1, prison admin­is­tra­tions began con­fis­cat­ing the detainees’ per­son­al effects.

We had to wear pyja­mas we made out of sheets and cov­er­ings of com­forters. One part of our con­fis­cat­ed belong­ings end­ed up rot­ting in ware­hous­es, the rest were stolen.

Resist­ing against the wear­ing of a com­mon out­fit wasn’t sim­ply a mat­ter of wear­ing or not the same kind of fab­ric on our backs. If we accept­ed to wear it, the repres­sion would not abate. Quite the con­trary, it was meant to play a role in our sub­mis­sion, it opened a boule­vard for oth­er orders and an offen­sive on a wider scale.

The more aggres­sive the order grew, the more resis­tance inten­si­fied. The « fast to the death » began in these cir­cum­stances on April 11 1984 in the iso­la­tion unit with detainees from Devrim­ci Sol (Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Left) and TIKB (Union of Turk­ish Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Com­mu­nists). With­in two days, pris­on­ers in the oth­er units and sec­tions of Metris prison (Istan­bul), and from the Spe­cial Type prison of Sağ­mal­cılar (Istan­bul) joined the mobilization.

Our spec­i­fie demands were the fol­low­ing: sup­pres­sion of the oblig­a­tion to wear the uni­form, an end to tor­ture, the re-estab­lish­ment of humane and social­ly accept­able con­di­tions and the recog­ni­tion of our sta­tus as polit­i­cal prisoners. »

Dur­ing this peri­od, par­al­lel to the com­pul­so­ry uni­form, oth­er humil­i­at­ing means of repres­sion were imposed on the pris­on­ers, such as mil­i­tary-style hair­cuts or stand­ing in ranks and at attention.

In an inter­view with Ayça Söyle­mez pub­lished on Bianet on August 4, Ertuğrul Mavioğlu said :

For one, Guan­tanamo is not a place that should serve as an exam­ple. It is a prison known for its bad prac­tices and that has drawn repro­ba­tion world-wide. »

The fact this top­ic is crop­ping up again is a sign that heavy total­i­tar­i­an­ism has arrived in Turkey. »

Once imple­ment­ed, even when tar­get­ing cer­tain per­sons, these types of prac­tices open the door to oth­er per­se­cu­tions affect­ing every­one. For exam­ple, the prac­tices used against FETÖ pris­on­ers in Silivri were extend­ed to the pris­on­ers from the Cumhuriyet newspaper. »

On Pro-regime medias…

On the same day, the media under orders glee­ful­ly relayed news that the Min­istry of Jus­tice had moved ahead in its « work » con­cern­ing prison uniforms :
“Fol­low­ing dis­cus­sions with prison admin­is­tra­tors, super­vi­sors of sewing shops and tex­tile engi­neers, the fol­low­ing ideas were agreed upon. FETÖ detainees will wear a uni­form con­sist­ing of pants and shirts made out of alpaca, a fab­ric suit­ed to cli­mac­tic con­di­tions. The out­fits will be the col­or of dried almonds. » [ excre­ment col­or in fact, nice­ly put. ]

Their mak­ing will be car­ried out by the tex­tile work­shops in the open pris­ons of Bandır­ma and Bur­sa. The pat­terns are being pre­pared. 50 000 out­fits will be sent to pris­ons hold­ing FETÖ detainees. »

A major­i­ty in Turk­ish soci­ety demands a new judi­cia­ry design, » they say, « and we are doing every­thing in our pow­er to keep you informed and to pro­vide answers to all the ques­tions you may have »…

The fol­low­ing pub­li­ca­tion, found on one of his master’s voice news­pa­pers [we will not give it free adver­tis­ing] offers an 8‑page dia­po­ra­ma of a pre-digest­ed « tell-all » with sup­port­ing views from spe­cial­ists. You will find here a semi-com­ment­ed ver­sion of this « news­pa­per », the com­men­tary pro­vid­ed through our care to give an idea of that media’s voice, and its qua­si-ven­tril­o­quist qual­i­ty in Turkey…

> What is the com­mon outfit ?

As a gen­er­al rule across the world, begin­ning with the Unit­ed States, pris­on­ers and detainees await­ing judg­ment must wear a com­pul­so­ry out­fit. This prac­tice is impor­tant for dis­ci­pline and the reha­bil­i­ta­tion sought for in prison, and it facil­i­tates the eras­ing of a pre-deten­tion social sat­us of which the guilty ones still car­ry traces. From a psy­cho­log­i­cal point of view, this approach is seen as an impor­tant fac­tor in the guilty ones’ rein­te­gra­tion into civil­ian soci­ety, as should be obvious. »
The words are illus­trat­ed with a pho­to­graph and the fol­low­ing sub-head­ing: « Exam­ple of a com­mon out­fit in Amer­i­can jails, in a scene from ‘In Hell’, a 2003 film with Van Damme”

> Why is this of cur­rent inter­est in Turkey ?

After Zek­eriya Kuzu appeared in a suit and tie before the judge in his tri­al for an attempt­ed attempt against Erdoğan, cit­i­zens began a cam­paign demand­ing uni­forms. Mil­lions of cit­i­zens are demand­ing it. The arrival of Gökhan Güçlü at his tri­al, wear­ing a T‑Shirt with the word HERO attract­ed attention. »
Illus­trat­ed with pho­tos of both men when arrest­ed and when arriv­ing at the court house in “cor­rect” attire.

> What do prison rules say ?

In the prison rules mod­i­fied 1983, and refor­mu­lat­ed in 1987 we find the fol­low­ing : (Arti­cle 82) Con­cern­ing detainees await­ing judg­ment : if the detainees’ cloth­ing is not suf­fi­cient or if it must be con­fis­cat­ed for judi­cia­ry pur­pos­es, they may be offered prison appar­el. (Arti­cle 93) Pris­on­ers are not autho­rized to obtain food, bed­ding and cloth­ing out­side the prison’s admin­is­tra­tion. (Arti­cle 96) Prison out­fits are giv­en to each pris­on­er and the con­demned are oblig­ed to wear them. »
What is the con­text in this last arti­cle ? A mystery…

> Two measures…

In pass­ing, a slight detail con­cern­ing the « Hero » T‑Shirt. We are told that « the prison staff who allowed this appar­el to go unchecked will be pros­e­cut­ed » and that “all of the FETÖ putschists’ items of cloth­ing will be removed and exam­ined, item by item, and the wear­ing of any item of cloth­ing bear­ing inscrip­tions in a for­eign lan­guage, begin­ning with Eng­lish, will be prohibited. »
Oh good…

> “The lawyer’s opinion ? »

Yes indeed, what does the lawyer say ? He become a pros­e­cu­tor… He says : « there are 119 accused and with their friends and fam­i­ly mem­bers in the court room, they con­sti­tute a major­i­ty and this cre­ates a pecu­liar atmos­phere. There should be a new design for the judi­cia­ry. There should be dif­fer­ent prac­tices for indi­vid­u­als being tried for an attempt­ed coup. It’s a polit­i­cal crime and they go on com­mit­ting it. Mes­sages on T‑Shirts, intim­i­da­tions, and oth­er behav­iors con­tin­ue. We must act so that they can­not con­tin­ue these provo­ca­tions. The com­mon out­fit is an exam­ple [of mea­sures that must be tak­en], and it is nec­es­sary. More­over, con­cern­ing tri­als with mul­ti­ple accused, they must be trans­ferred to the court­room tak­ing all appro­pri­ate safe­ty mea­sures, shack­led and hand­cuffed. There must be images that will imprint them­selves in people’s mem­o­ries. In this way, pub­lic opin­ion will also be satisfied. »

> “How are things done in oth­er countries ? »

The use of uni­forms is wide­spread in dif­fer­ent coun­tries. The Unit­ed States pro­vide the most impor­tant exam­ple. Until the 19th cen­tu­ry in Amer­i­ca, pris­on­ers were garbed in black and white striped appar­el. In the begin­ning of the 20th cen­tu­ry, this prac­tice was aban­doned and dif­fer­ent mod­els were pre­ferred. Start­ing in the sev­en­ties, orange uni­forms start­ed being used in many pris­ons in the Unit­ed States ». Bla bla bla, with exam­ples and pho­tos… end­ing, of course, in keep­ing with the Reis’ words : « Also in the prison of Guan­tanamo that has attract­ed world-wide atten­tion, [we won­der why] orange uni­forms are giv­en to the prisoners. »
The words are illus­trat­ed by two pho­tographs of detainees, one of them with head bent. All that is miss­ing is a Char­lie Chap­lin in prison uniform…

> “The polit­i­cal par­ties’ vision ? »

The arti­cle sheds light on the dif­fer­ent opin­ions in Par­lia­ment giv­ing the AKP vision « for », and the CHP, « against ».

That’s all. There are no oth­er polit­i­cal par­ties in Turkey. Next page please…

> The high­light in the show : “Sur­vey : What do the peo­ple want ?

Mil­lions of cit­i­zens demand com­pul­so­ry uni­forms for the putschist trai­tors who par­tic­i­pat­ed in the July 15th coup attempt. Cit­i­zens chant­i­ng every­where « We want the death penal­ty ! » dis­play their response to the cloth­ing state­ments made by the accused ».
Cloth­ing statements !

« The sur­vey con­duct­ed by our paper gives a note­wor­thy pic­ture. In this sur­vey, close to 3000 peo­ple respond­ed to the ques­tion with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ : ‘Should we have a com­mon out­fit for the accused of July 15th ?’. In a very short while, 89% had vot­ed ‘yes’ and 11% ‘no’ » . Aargh ! 11% of traitors !

The arti­cle clos­es on this same page with a reminder con­cern­ing the HERO T‑Shirt, illus­trat­ed with the fol­low­ing pho­to tak­en on the square fac­ing the Cham­ber of Com­merce and Indus­try, for the Muğla court house being small, the hear­ing was held there… “The cit­i­zens who gath­ered on the square [mil­lions as can be seen…] raised a scaf­fold, threw ropes at the accused, read out their names, then chant­ed ‘hang them !’ »

Facing the Judge in Uniform

A per­son who is accused, even if detained pri­or to sen­tenc­ing, is not con­demned yet.

Which means the per­son still car­ries the hope of an acquit­tal. Dur­ing the judi­cial process, the accused must appear before the judges, present a defence, answer ques­tions, and express him­self or her­self. Obvi­ous­ly, appear­ing in an accept­able out­fit may play in his or her favor. Of course, the regime wants to deny polit­i­cal pris­on­ers this pos­si­bil­i­ty. Yet, a decent appear­ance is « tra­di­tion­al­ly » tak­en into account for mis­de­meanours and crimes of com­mon law. We have pub­lished a num­ber of arti­cles con­cern­ing assas­si­na­tions, assaults or rapes on women or chil­dren, where the accused received heav­i­ly reduced sen­tences « for a well-tied neck­tie »… The State thus encour­ages fem­i­ni­cides and vio­lences by the means of Jus­tice and prop­er attire…

The prison uni­form is a tool of humil­i­a­tion with psy­cho­log­i­cal pow­er. Its aim is to sub­ju­gate, deper­son­al­ize and draw atten­tion to the con­demned accord­ing to his offence, and the col­or choice is not inno­cent in this regard. The « dried almond » col­or, as described by Turk­ish author­i­ties is a reminder of the col­or of excre­ment, and needs no fur­ther expla­na­tion in this con­text. Forc­ing pris­on­ers to wear a uni­form is an act of sub­ju­ga­tion pure and sim­ple. Just as the mil­i­tary or police uni­form is per­ceived by civil­ians to indi­cate supe­ri­or force, or again, the white coat sym­bol­izes sci­en­tif­ic « author­i­ty » for instance, inverse­ly, the com­mon out­fit for pris­on­ers places him in a sub­mis­sive position.

A Proposed New Law

Today on August 6th, the Com­mis­sion presided by Dr. Sul­hi Dön­mez­er and work­ing on the reform of the law con­cern­ing sen­tences and mea­sures sur­round­ing them, pre­sent­ed its project to the Jus­tice Min­is­ter, Cemil Çiçek. (Bianet)

As announced, the project con­tains the com­pul­so­ry wear­ing of a uni­form and opens up the pos­si­bil­i­ty of force­ful inter­ven­tion on pris­on­ers pur­su­ing a hunger strike.

In sum­ma­ry, arti­cle 64 of the project stip­u­lates : “The fact that detainees dress as they choose may hin­der dis­ci­pline among the pris­on­ers and facil­i­tate escapes ». Accord­ing to the project, prison admin­is­tra­tors will be autho­rized to impose uni­forms if they deem them necessary.

No pub­li­ca­tion “that might endan­ger secu­ri­ty and that would con­tain arti­cles, infor­ma­tion and obscene pho­tos will be autho­rized for prisoners. »
Again, the vaguness which leaves inter­pre­ta­tion to the prison admin­is­tra­tors, allows for arbi­trary deci­sions, under the excuse of decency.

Once the project will have force of law, the detainees will be allowed to acquire all edi­tions by pay­ing for them and “rooms will not con­tain more books than nec­es­sary ». What is the “nec­es­sary” num­ber of books in a ward or a cell ? How is this « neceesi­ty » calculated ?

Pris­on­ers may be oblig­ed to per­form com­pul­so­ry work in work shel­ters or work­shops, as well as in areas out­side the jail, such as con­struc­tion sites and mines. In these cas­es, these per­sons will be paid for their work and these sums of mon­ey will be declared. »
More­over, we note that the con­struc­tion of type L pris­ons, on the basis of forced labor, con­tin­ues. Once these con­struc­tions are fin­ished, most pris­on­ers will be forced to work. A century’s worth of regres­sion ? Cheap labor ?

The project allows for « force­ful inter­ven­tion in the case of a hunger strike », and there­fore, force feeding.

This form of protest, undoubt­ed­ly the most rad­i­cal, will thus be denied to pris­on­ers. If this is added to the pro­ject­ed law, along with com­pul­so­ry uni­forms, it is pre­cise­ly because hunger strikes demon­strat­ed their effi­cien­cy in the past, while unfor­tu­nate­ly inscrib­ing the names of vic­tims, dead or hand­i­caped for life, in the his­to­ry of Turk­ish jails.

We can now raise the ques­tion, in the case of Nuriye and Semih, on hunger strike for the past 151 days, and thrown in jail since May 22nd. A protest to which the regime does not want to yield… Nuriye and Semih, hav­ing long gone beyond the crit­i­cal phase, main­tain their strike with deter­mi­na­tion, con­stant­ly demand­ing the same thing, their jobs. Only a force­ful inter­ven­tion could avoid their loss and the Turk­ish State knows that, should they die, the sit­u­a­tion is at risk of fur­ther complications.

This reform would allow the gov­ern­ment this way out to keep them alive.

Killing two birds with one stone.


Trans­la­tion by Renée Lucie Bourges.
French ver­sion > Turquie • Retour du port de l’uniforme dans les prisons

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REDACTION | Journaliste 
Chat de gout­tière sans fron­tières. Jour­nal­isme à l’U­ni­ver­sité de Mar­mara. Archi­tec­ture à l’U­ni­ver­sité de Mimar Sinan, Istanbul.