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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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