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Turkey con­tin­ues the prac­tice of deport­ing pris­on­ers to pen­i­ten­tiaries hun­dreds of kilo­me­ters away from their fam­i­lies. Yet, a recent deci­sion by the Euro­pean Court of Human Rights, has con­demned the coun­try for “vio­la­tion of respect for fam­i­ly life”…

In Octo­ber 2019, the ECHR (Euro­pean Court of Human Rights) ren­dered its deci­sion con­cern­ing the appeals by Abdülk­er­im Avşar and Abdülk­er­im Tekin, and sen­tenced Turkey to 6 000€ indem­ni­ties for each of the pris­on­ers. But despite this deci­sion   estab­lish­ing jurispru­dence in the mat­ter, sig­nal­ing that pris­on­ers should be trans­ferred to pris­ons close to their homes, Turkey con­tin­ues as before to prac­tice its pol­i­cy of depor­ta­tion, a method designed to per­se­cute through isolation.

In pen­i­ten­tiary jar­gon, these depor­ta­tions are called “exile trans­fer” or “ban­ish­ment”. They are often prac­ticed, with no pre­lim­i­nary word giv­en to the pris­on­ers’ lawyers, their fam­i­lies, or even the pris­on­ers involved in the trans­fer. The usu­al motive is often that of “lack of space”. This lack of space is undoubt­ed­ly real, for Turk­ish pris­ons nev­er emp­ty of male and female politi­cians, intel­lec­tu­als, aca­d­e­mics, writ­ers, jour­nal­ists, stu­dents, activists. But with the depor­ta­tions from one town to anoth­er and vice-ver­sa, an odd and desta­bi­liz­ing “turn-over” is maintained.

This has only one pur­pose: iso­lat­ing prisoners

We had men­tioned this top­ic in the urgent cas­es of the sick detainees, Devrim Ayık and Celal Şek­er, who died in prison, unfor­tu­nate­ly. And in Novem­ber 2018, our friend and col­league Zehra Dogan along with 20 of her pris­on­er friends were also deport­ed some 570 km away from their families.

prisons ring Turquie turkey jail

A recent mod­el ‘ring’, there­fore “roomi­er” and “more comfortable”

The “trans­fers” are done in vehi­cles called “rings”, the inte­ri­ors of which hold cells. The pris­on­ers are hand­cuffed and sub­ject­ed to jour­neys of sev­er­al hours, with no stops. When a trans­fer to a hos­pi­tal is done in such a vehi­cle, the trip is such hell for the detainees that most of them pre­fer not to make the request. Aslı Erdoğan men­tioned this in the ear­ly part of 2017, in an inter­view fol­low­ing her lib­er­a­tion, using the fol­low­ing words: “They force you into this hor­ri­ble vehi­cle, the ‘ring’. I have nev­er seen any­thing as inhu­man as this vehicle.” 

Count­less polit­i­cal pris­on­ers, held hostage in Turk­ish pris­ons, are sub­ject­ed to this sys­tem­at­ic, inhu­man and abu­sive practice.


Below, I present cas­es of men and women elect­ed mem­bers of the Peo­ple’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty (HDP), co-may­ors in Kur­dish towns in Turkey. Some of these names may sound famil­iar, oth­ers, not.

If I insist on giv­ing all the names that fol­low, like in a litany, it is because it is impor­tant to remem­ber that, trans­formed into fig­ures, and under the artis­tic blur of sta­tis­tics, one always for­gets the human beings involved.

24 co-mayors thrown in jail

A fresh wave of purges began on August 19 2019,  dis­miss­ing elect­ed co-may­ors  of the HDP fol­low­ing the local elec­tions on March 31 2019, and send­ing them to jail. Of the 65 city halls won by the HDP, the co-may­ors of 6 local­i­ties were refused the right to exer­cise their man­dates, using as a pre­text that they had been  “dis­missed” by a decree with force of law (KHK).

The co-may­ors were replaced by admin­is­tra­tors named by the State. This prac­tice rests on decree hav­ing force of law KHK N°674 pro­mul­gat­ed on 15/8/2016, under the State of Excep­tion (OHAL). Yet, jurists, lawyers and Bar asso­ci­a­tions have denounced this prac­tice and filed appeals, spec­i­fy­ing that it is ille­gal since the decree in ques­tion is in total oppo­si­tion to the terms of the Constitution.

To date, 32 co-may­ors have been dis­missed from their duties and replaced by “admin­is­tra­tors” named by the State.

27 of the co-may­ors were arrest­ed, only 3 of which were lib­er­at­ed very recent­ly : Mehmet Fatih Taş and Fat­ma Ay (co-may­ors of Kulp), Semi­re Ner­giz co-may­or of Nusay­bin. Thus far, 24 co-may­ors are still incarcerated.

Long journeys with no stops, and handcuffed

The impeach­ments began on 19 August 2019, with a deci­sion con­cern­ing: Figen Altın­dağ and Ahmet Türk co-may­ors of Mardin metro­pole; Selçuk Mızrak­lı, co-may­or of Diyarbakır metro­pole; Bedia Özgökçe Ertan and Mustafa Avcı co-may­ors of Van metropole.


Diyarbakır –> Kay­seri, 563 km

Selçuk Mızrak­lı was arrest­ed on Octo­ber 22 for “belong­ing to a ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion” at the same time as Kez­iban Yıl­maz, co-may­or of Kayapı­nar (Diyarbakır dis­trict) and Roj­da Nazlıer, co-may­or of Kocaköy (Diyarbakır dis­trict). Four days lat­er, the three polit­i­cal detainees, incar­cer­at­ed in a Type D prison in Diyarbakır, were trans­ferred to the prison of Kay­seri Bünyan, 563 km away.  And yet, their tri­als are being han­dled by the Tri­bunal in Diyarbakır!

From Van to Osmaniye

As for Yıldız Çetin, co-may­or of Erciş (Van dis­trict), also arrest­ed on the same charge, after a brief stay in the Van prison, he was trans­ferred to the prison of Osmaniye, which is to say 791 km for his town of residence.


Van -> Osmaniye, 791 km

From Erzurum to Ankara

Melike Gök­su, co-may­or of Karayazı (Erzu­rum dis­trict) arrest­ed on Sep­tem­ber 17 2019 for “belong­ing to a ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion” crossed over half of the coun­try, being trans­ferred from the jail in Sin­can to Ankara, some 1 027 km away. Her tri­al con­tin­ues in Erzu­rum while the elect­ed mem­ber remains impris­oned in Ankara.


Erzu­rum -> Ankara, 1072 km

From Hakkari to Elazığ

On Sep­tem­ber 18 2019, it was Cihan Kara­man’s turn, co-may­or of Hakkari, and of the co-may­ors of Yük­seko­va (Hakkari dis­trict), İrf­an Sarı and Remziye Yaşar. Arrest­ed in their homes, for “belong­ing to a ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion”, they were sent 631 kms away, to the prison in Elazığ. Their tri­al con­tin­ues in the Hakkari tribunal.


Hakkari -> Elazığ, 631 km

From Van to Erzurum

Fol­low­ing raids on their respec­tive homes, on Novem­ber 11 2019, this time the co-may­ors of İpekyo­lu (Van dis­trict) Azim Yacan and Şehzade Kurt were tak­en into cus­tody then incar­cer­at­ed on the famil­iar charge. The two elect­ed mem­bers were incar­cer­tat­ed first in the prison in Van, then trans­ferred to the prison in Erzu­rum, 378 km away. You guessed it, their tri­al con­tin­ues… in the Van tribunal.

turkish jails

Van -> Erzu­rum, 378 km

Criminalizing victims, and keeping them well isolated

You cer­tain­ly remem­ber the bomb attack per­pe­trat­ed by ISIS on Octo­ber 10 2015 in Ankara dur­ing a meet­ing “for peace”. This attack left 109 life­less bod­ies strewn about in front of the Ankara rail­road sta­tion. Dur­ing this attack, Hat­ice Çevik, co-may­or of Suruç (Urfa dis­trict) lost her daugh­ter and her daugh­ter-in-law; she was arrest­ed on Novem­ber 12 2019,  as always under the usu­al charge of “belong­ing to a ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion”. Nei­ther did she escape from the dis­tanc­ing trans­fer, as she was sent from Urfa to Tar­sus, some 420 km from her home.

urfa tarsus

Urfa -> Tar­sus, 410 km

Group ticket for Tarsus some 500 kms away

Were then arrest­ed dur­ing raids on their homes: the co-may­or of Mazı­dağı Nalan Öza­y­dın, on Novem­ber 13, Gülis­tan Öncü, co-may­or of Savur on Novem­ber 14, the co-may­or of Derik, Mülkiye Esmez on Novem­ber 15, the co-may­or of Kızıl­te­pe, Nilüfer Elik Yıl­maz on Decem­ber 9…

All of them women, all of them elect­ed in Mardin dis­tricts, all of them accused under the  usu­al catch­phrase of “belong­ing”. Their tri­al con­tin­ues in the Mardin Tri­bunal. They were trans­ferred to the prison in Tar­sus. For Gülis­tan Öncü, this rep­re­sents a trans­fer 442 km away from her home, for Nalan Öza­y­dın, 583 km, for Mülkiy Esmez, 651 km and for Nilüfer Elik Yıl­maz, 572 km.

mardin tarsus

Mardin -> Tar­sus, de 442, à 542 km, depend­ing on where they live…

From Muş to Maraş

Ülkü Karaaslan, co-may­or of Var­to (Muş) arrest­ed on Decem­ber 18 2019 dur­ing a raid on her home under the same pre­text, was trans­ferred from Var­to to  the prison of Osmaniye, some 692 km away. As for Adnan Topçu, co-may­or of Mus arrest­ed on the same date, he was sent to the prison in Maraş Türkoğlu. Need we add that their tri­al con­tin­ues in the tri­bunal in Muş?

Diyarbakır — Erzurum: just next door!

On Decem­ber 23 2019, Fil­iz Bulut­tekin and Cemal Özdemir, co-may­ors of Sur, the his­tor­i­cal neigh­bor­hood of Diyarbakır, arrest­ed in their homes and incar­cer­at­ed for “belong­ing”, again, were trans­ferred – such luck – only 317 km away toward a prison in Erzu­rum. The inquest by the Diyarbakır pros­e­cu­tor, is cur­rent­ly underway…

erzurum diyarbakir

Diyarbakır -> Erzu­rum, 317 km (only)

I’ll stop here this repet­i­tive exer­cise, which, how­ev­er, con­cerns only a few emblem­at­ic cas­es and is the dai­ly real­i­ty of repres­sion in Turkey.

No answers to appeals

Sidar Avşar is the attor­ney rep­re­sent­ing pris­on­ers Abdülk­er­im Avşar and Abudülk­er­im Tekin whose appeals led to the con­dem­na­tion of Turkey by the Euro­pean Court of Human Rights.

He declared that, despite the four months since the Court’s deci­sion, it has not been respect­ed. He adds that, fol­low­ing this deci­sion, as a mat­ter of jurispru­dence, oth­er appeals were filed.

None of the demands by the fam­i­lies request­ing the trans­fer of their rel­a­tives in estab­lish­ments close to the place of res­i­dence have succeeded.

So far, our appeals have received no response. Con­cern­ing our unan­swered appeals beyond the 60 days of the legal delay, we have opened tri­als in admin­is­tra­tive tri­bunals. These are still under­way. There­fore, we can­not yet say that the State is respect­ing the deci­sion reached by the Euro­pean Court of Human Rights.”

Figen Yüksekdağ and Selahattin Demirtaş

As a reminder, rel­a­tives of Figen Yük­sek­dağ and Sela­hat­tin Demir­taş„ ex co-pres­i­dents of HDP, must trav­el thou­sands of kilo­me­ters in Turkey in order to vis­it them. Sela­hat­tin Demir­taş is incar­cer­tat­ed in the Type F prison in Edirne. He is under tri­al in Istan­bul and in Ankara. His fam­i­ly resides in Diyarbakir, 1569 km from Edirne prison… As for Figen Yük­sek­dağ, she is detained in Kocaeli prison. Her fam­i­ly resides in Istan­bul. She is under tri­al in Ankara.

These are only two exam­ples, along with those of the HDP co-may­ors, cho­sen among the names bet­ter known in inter­na­tion­al pub­lic opinion…

Prison deportation, a pernicious method

This prac­tice of depor­ta­tion or “ban­ish­ment” is per­ni­cious. Dis­tanc­ing from the fam­i­ly, the bread­king of social bonds, cre­ates trav­el­ling dif­fi­cul­ties along with finan­cial prob­lems, it requires sac­ri­fices and pro­vides a bonus in weak­en­ing the resis­tance of deport­ed pris­on­ers. Not only are they iso­lat­ed in human terms,   but it also cre­ates the need to use audio­vi­su­al means for hear­ings, anoth­er type of isolation…

The video­con­fer­enc­ing sys­tem, SEGBIS, is imposed on pris­on­ers who “can­not” be phys­i­cal­ly present at their tri­al (or who were deport­ed so they could not attend).

Need we remind every­one that one of the prin­ci­ples of Jus­tice is the right to being judged ‘face to face” and with direct means of expres­sion. The forced use of the video­con­fer­enc­ing sys­tem is noth­ing oth­er than a con­fis­ca­tion of these fun­da­men­tal rights for per­sons on tri­al. For, in con­crete terms dur­ing a hear­ing tak­ing place in the absence of the accused, he or she can­not con­trol the accu­sa­tions, nor phys­i­cal­ly see the evi­dence being pro­duced. He or she can only see the hear­ing room through a small screen, and only dur­ing his or her peri­od of per­son­al inter­ven­tion. If the con­nec­tion fails (fol­low­ing a pow­er fail­ure, or a pur­port­ed one), the hear­ing con­tin­ues and the judg­ment becomes a judg­ment by default, out­side the will of the accused.

More­over, since the accused is not phys­i­cal­ly present by the side of the defend­ing lawyer, he or she can­not com­mu­ni­cate with the lawyer, nor request to look at a doc­u­ment. The fact the accused is absent at a hear­ing where the plain­tiff is present, goes against the prin­ci­ple of  a “lev­el play­ing field”, one of the ele­ments inher­ent in the notion of an equi­table trial.

And solidarity from the outside?

As you can well imag­ine, depor­ta­tions from one prison to anoth­er, added to the “win­dow dress­ing” lib­er­a­tions that some­times only last for a few days, as was the case for Ahmet Altan to men­tion only his case, cre­ate an igno­ble and com­plex game of jail­house musi­cal chairs, mag­ni­fy­ing to an incred­i­ble degree the dif­fi­cul­ties for those on the out­side who attempt as best they can to sup­port their jailed friends and relatives.

Who is in which jail in Turkey at the moment? Where should we send cards and let­ters? Thus the per­verse prac­tice of prison depor­ta­tions over­flows on the out­side, weak­en­ing expres­sions of solidarity.

So, fam­i­lies and friends  pull togeth­er, pass­ing on infor­ma­tion, address­es, let­ters, mes­sages, keep­ing lists updated…

Be stub­born too. Sup­port polit­i­cal hostages! Write to them.

This is the best way to abol­ish kilo­me­ters, bor­ders and every method of inhu­man isolation.

Here is a non-exhaus­tive list of polit­i­cal hostages in Turkey, which we attempt to keep up to date, as much as possible…

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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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.