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The trans­la­tion of Pınar Selek’s arti­cle pub­lished on May 28 2020, in French, in her Medi­a­part blog, with her kind permission.

The Cry from Turkish Prisons

San­i­tary con­di­tions are deplorable. No soap, no hot water… Often, even water is lack­ing… They move us around con­stant­ly. They want to kills us through this ill­ness. Speak to jour­nal­ists… Let the vio­lences be known suf­fered by tens of thou­sands of pris­on­ers in Turkey”. How to hear and make that cry be heard? How to reach beyond the walls?

The plan­et is cry­ing. One part of it more than the oth­er. Most­ly, when one is in Europe, we con­stant­ly receive appeals to sol­i­dar­i­ty against the repres­sion ongo­ing in such and such a coun­try. More than a few such appeals. I have just cir­cu­lat­ed a let­ter sent from Brazil from a fem­i­nist friend call­ing for our sol­i­dar­i­ty and writ­ing the fol­low­ing: “When fas­cism takes hold in a coun­try, the entire plan­et is endan­gered.” Gen­er­al­ly, one spreads these appeals by mail, Face­book, Insta­gram or with a tweet…Then anoth­er appeal arrives, from anoth­er cor­ner of our sad world… And one does the same thing again. Con­fi­dent in the use­ful­ness of relay­ing such appeals, I lis­ten to Gram­sci, I con­nect the pes­simism of intel­li­gence to the opti­mism of will and I send you these cries from Turkey, from my coun­try I had to leave ten years ago. I send you these appeals, to ask for your cre­ative sol­i­dar­i­ty…

Those who fol­low the news some­what are already aware of the repres­sion bear­ing down on any per­son who crit­i­cizes, cre­ates, thinks, asks ques­tions in Turkey. None of that is news…and it isn’t lim­it­ed to the cur­rent gov­ern­ment. The same tune plays over and over again: shut-downs, open­ings, repression…You have cer­tain­ly heard or read infor­ma­tion on jour­nal­ists, lawyers, activists, artists in prison, on singers los­ing their lives in hunger strikes. There are sol­i­dar­i­ty cam­paigns for Nûdem Durak, the Kur­dish singer, and for Osman Kavala, Turk­ish patron of arts and human rights, who have both been impris­oned for years…The Kurds are hold­ing sev­er­al demon­stra­tions in Europe to protest against the impris­on­ment of dozens of deputies and may­ors elect­ed under the ban­ner of the Peo­ples’ Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty (HDP)…

All these vio­lences would be dif­fi­cult to under­stand if one did not take into account the cross-bor­der war in which Turkey has re-engaged in the last years, in Syr­ia, in Irak, in Libya. A war con­text cru­el­ly takes hold of the coun­try again and repres­sion turns mur­der­ous. It is every­where, but in dom­i­nates in the Kur­dish regions in a very bru­tal man­ner. Those towns that had expe­ri­enced glim­mers of democ­ra­cy turn dark again fol­low­ing the con­fis­ca­tions of their town halls by the State, mas­sive arrests and killings. Every hour, a new piece of news lands: incar­cer­a­tions, tor­tures, mas­sacres, pro­hi­bi­tions…

In this con­text, even if they min­gle with oth­ers, I ask you to hear the cries ris­ing from pris­ons in Turkey…In 1993, in Dis­ci­pline and Pun­ish: the Birth of Prison, Michel Fou­cault demon­strat­ed how pris­ons mir­ror pow­er arrange­ments in the soci­eties to which they belong. Indeed, we can ‘read’ Turkey through its carcer­al sys­tem. Liv­ing con­di­tions in pris­ons, the spa­tial lay­out of the con­fine­ment, the pow­er prac­tices on the detainees indeed reflect the pow­er orga­ni­za­tion in the coun­try. First of all, one must bear in mind that, after Rus­sia, Turkey is the sec­ond coun­try in Europe with the most pris­on­ers. In Jan­u­ary 2020, there were 294 000 pris­on­ers accord­ing to the fig­ures from the Min­istry of Jus­tice. In the absence of offi­cial data, NGOs eval­u­ate the num­ber of polit­i­cal pris­on­ers accused of ter­ror­ism to be about 80 000. Yes, in Turkey, approx­i­mate­ly 80 thou­sand activists from civ­il asso­ci­a­tions, jour­nal­ists, artists, musi­cians, lawyers, writ­ers, aca­d­e­mics, deputies and may­ors are behind prison walls… Imag­ine a coun­try that locks up all these peo­ple, as many as pos­si­ble… I also belonged to that pop­u­la­tion for two and a half years. Exclud­ed from all cir­cuits, unable to make my voice heard, always count­ing on sol­i­dar­i­ty net­works in order to let the “out­side” know what was going on “inside”. Even though my tri­al con­tin­ues and threat­ens me, I am now “out­side”. Out­side the pris­ons, out­side the coun­try… And I car­ry the words from “inside”.

You have cer­tain­ly heard about it. A few weeks ago, a law vot­ed by the Turk­ish Par­lia­ment in order to fight against the prop­a­ga­tion of Covid-19 allowed for the lib­er­a­tion of 90 000 pris­on­ers accused or sen­tenced for domes­tic vio­lence and oth­er crimes, rapes, frauds, mem­ber­ship in a mafia group, idol of extreme right­ist com­mu­ni­ties… But the polit­i­cal pris­on­ers, for exam­ple intel­lec­tu­als judged sole­ly for offences relat­ed to their opin­ions, were exclud­ed from this amnesty and find them­selves con­demned to a num­ber of ill­ness­es in the very poor san­i­tary con­di­tions pre­vail­ing in Turk­ish pris­ons. In ear­ly April, the League of Human Rights (IHD) report­ed that at least 1 564 pris­on­ers were ill, includ­ing 591 suf­fer­ing from the coro­n­avirus. Fol­low­ing the new arrests and polit­i­cal­ly-moti­vat­ed impris­on­ment, we won­der if by instru­men­tal­iz­ing the pan­dem­ic, the gov­ern­ment had­n’t sim­ply wished to free up spaces in order to lock up more activists, jour­nal­ists, artists.

The pris­on­ers’ mes­sages are not vis­i­ble in the media. Thanks to their fam­i­lies, we hear those mes­sages: “The san­i­tary con­di­tions are more are more deplorable, after the lib­er­a­tion of the ban­dits, the rapists. They do not give us soap, there is no hot water… And often, there isn’t even any water… They move us around con­stant­ly. The per­se­cu­tions are unbear­able. They search our beds con­stant­ly, they touch every­thing, they want us to die from the ill­ness. Speak to jour­nal­ists… Make known the vio­lence tens of thou­sands of pris­on­ers are under­go­ing in Turkey.”

How to hear and made heard this cry? How to reach beyond the walls?

Fol­low­ing the coup in 1980, my father, a lawyer and defendor of human rights was impris­oned for five years along with hun­dreds of thou­sands of writ­ers, jour­nal­ists, activists… With him were thou­sands of union work­ers. Even union del­e­gates were locked up under absurd accu­sa­tions… The pros­e­cu­tors called for the death sen­tence for the lead­ers and life terms for the del­e­gates. There were thou­sands and thou­sands of them in prison. “Let­ters reached us. Let­ters of sol­i­dar­i­ty from every Euro­pean coun­try. This annoyed us. We had no wish to read them. We expect­ed from the CIGT and oth­er unions that they would strike in sol­i­dar­i­ty, or hold work stop­pages for an hour… We had a tiny radio and we man­aged to locate the BBC…We lis­tened to all the news, await­ing a true act of sol­i­dar­i­ty… In vain!”

How to hear and make that cry be heard? How to reach beyond the walls?

Both inside and out?

Pınar Selek

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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