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Pour trouver les autres “Notes de prison” suivez ce lien.

Note from Kedis­tan: In her pre­vi­ous arti­cle, Aslıhan Gençay promised a fourth and final paper with these words: “I wish to share with pub­lic opin­ion and the Min­istry of Jus­tice a fur­ther arti­cle pre­sent­ing my demands and pro­pos­als con­cern­ing con­di­tions in prison and the prob­lems which I observed and per­son­al­ly encoun­tered as a prisoner.”

She expressed these demands and pro­pos­als in an inter­view with Ekmek ve Gül. We there­fore pub­lish the trans­la­tion of this inter­view, as the final ele­ment in this series of testimonials.


Aslıhan Gençay is a jour­nal­ist who spent long peri­ods of impris­on­ment in dif­fer­ent pen­i­ten­tiaries in Turkey; she is one of the women rais­ing their voic­es against ill treat­ments and forced strip search­es. Today, she is released on pro­ba­tion but can­not for­get what she lived through in prison and what she wit­nessed there…

In your opin­ion, is tor­ture a prac­tice in Turk­ish prisons?

In my opin­ion, although we no longer come across the sav­age tor­tures and elim­i­na­tions that were prac­ticed in the 90s, more “refined” poli­cies, so to speak, are now used as planned meth­ods of intim­i­da­tion, sub­mis­sion, harass­ment in order to ’tame’ the pris­on­ers. Their aim is as fol­lows: hav­ing them under­stand mat­ters so very clear­ly that they will do every­thing in their pow­er so as not to be sent back inside.

Giv­en every­thing I lived through myself and all I wit­nessed, I can eas­i­ly pro­vide the fol­low­ing analy­sis: I think the Min­istry of Jus­tice car­ries out a faulty pol­i­cy against the pris­on­ers — one aimed at tam­ing them, teach­ing them to obey, play­ing at both priest and tor­tur­er toward them. The tor­tur­ers are the admin­is­tra­tors in cer­tain pris­ons while the priest, of course, is the Min­istry of Jus­tice. For instance, when I was in the Sin­can prison (Ankara) in 2016, the admin­is­tra­tors of the estab­lish­ment made a list of pris­on­ers, polit­i­cal as well as com­mon-law, who stood up for their rights, who stood up to the admin­is­tra­tors. Then, as soon as the prison in Tar­sus was opened, they deport­ed all of us over there.

Con­di­tions in the Tar­sus prison were ter­ri­fy­ing, no dif­fer­ent from hell, the estab­lish­ment was like a tor­ture cen­ter. This was a delib­er­ate pol­i­cy imple­ment­ed in order to crush rebel­lious pris­on­ers. Every­thing you can imag­ine was for­bid­den, with no log­ic involved, and the staff were per­ma­nent­ly aggres­sive. Dis­ci­pli­nary sanc­tions flew, the pris­on­ers suf­fered every day. It was as if we had to start all over again from zero, we had to obtain the most basic human rights through resis­tance, even for some­thing like hot water. At last, those who were capa­ble of resist­ing did so, held on and what was hap­pen­ing in Tar­sus was brought up to the light of day.

And what hap­pened after­wards? The Min­istry of Jus­tice, as if it was not aware of any­thing hap­pen­ing in this prison, sent inspec­tors, had the prison inspect­ed and some of the lead­ers and tor­tur­ing civ­il ser­vants were moved elsewhere.

Today we learn through Ömer Faruk Gerg­er­lioğlu, deputy of the Peo­ples’ Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty (HDP) that sim­i­lar instances occur in Silivri prison N°2 (Istan­bul). The aim is in per­se­cut­ing pris­on­ers, as much as pos­si­ble dur­ing these few months, to work on their uncon­scious. My advice to all pris­on­ers sub­ject­ed to per­se­cu­tions — their rel­a­tives who hear me can pass on my words to them — you must resist, you must hold on. You can be sure of it, all this per­se­cu­tion is not car­ried out because we can’t hear your voic­es, it’s a sys­temic pol­i­cy. Hold out, resist, do not give up on your rights and on your obsti­na­cy, even in the most blind of cells, so that these prac­tices will end.

Garibe Gez­er was also sub­ject­ed to ill treat­ment, to sex­u­al aggres­sions, her voice was raised in vain. How did you feel after her death?

Garibe’s sto­ry broke me, in the fullest sense of the word. Iso­la­tion dri­ves you mad, and an over­crowd­ed block­cell leads to fights and illnesses.

I think that for Garibe, the fact that she was a woman resist­ing,  meant the sys­tem attempt­ed to tame her, to break her down through iso­la­tion. She was sub­ject­ed to all kinds of things, but that was not acci­den­tal. I repeat, I think it is part of a delib­er­ate­ly imple­ment­ed policy.

Accord­ing to what I know, there is a pro­gram of “reha­bil­i­ta­tion of rad­i­cal ele­ments” that the Min­istry of Jus­tice car­ries out joint­ly with Spain. Span­ish prison admin­is­tra­tors explain to our own which poli­cies they use in pris­ons in order to “reha­bil­i­tate” ETA mem­bers, and there is also a joint work­ing group. Garibe was a woman with an obsti­nate char­ac­ter, resis­tant and rad­i­cal and this is the rea­son why she was nev­er tak­en out of iso­la­tion, they con­stant­ly attempt­ed to make her yield, they pushed her beyond her limits.

She made her first sui­cide attempt in full knowl­edge. She thought that if she died, there would be inter­est for the vio­la­tions of her rights and, unfor­tu­nate­ly, she was right. She played the gui­tar, she did embroi­dery, why would she want to kill her­self? What hap­pened in fact was that the admin­is­tra­tors of the type F Kandıra prison N° 1 pushed her to com­mit sui­cide through their prac­tices of intim­i­da­tion, and through the insis­tent crush­ing down through isolations.

I lived through that psy­cho­log­i­cal state of mind in the closed prison of Sivas, despite my expe­ri­ence and my lev­el of con­scious­ness. I was placed in a cell that was like a dog ken­nel, alone, iso­lat­ed from every­one and every­thing. I was con­stant­ly told that I would nev­er man­age to get out of there and, at one point, I even believed it. That men­tal state is worked on in detail, it is a total tac­tic lead­ing to col­lapse: “no one can help you, you have only one solu­tion, obe­di­ence and sub­or­di­na­tion.” In order to over­come this psy­cho­log­i­cal con­di­tion, I had to dis­play a very strong will. This is why I under­stand Garibe so well, that I can feel for her with all my heart. Had she sur­vived, I could write all this to her, I could tell her “hold on for a bit more, it will end”. When I heard of her death, I was pet­ri­fied, to such an extent that I was unable to cry, my breath was tak­en away from me.  While I was attend­ing to my dai­ly rou­tine, she was all alone, sub­ject­ed to what I had expe­ri­enced before her, and I had been unable to do any­thing for her. As a jour­nal­ist, I will do every­thing in my pow­er for jus­tice. Let’s not for­get, iso­la­tion is a tor­ture, iso­la­tion dri­ves you mad, iso­la­tion kills.

What did you wit­ness in prisons?

  • Imag­ine women liv­ing under a pile of con­crete and iron, in blocks designed for 10 but in groups of 20 or even more. Sin­gle toi­let facil­i­ties for all. Iso­la­tion destroys the mind, but the over­crowd­ed cell blocks lead to fights. And indeed, fights break out very often. This cramped lifestyle in which inti­ma­cy is sup­pressed cre­ates first and fore­most men­tal and psy­cho­log­i­cal prob­lems. You might say “there are the prom­e­nades in pris­ons…” Yes but, in type T pris­ons for instance, they are so small that you make the round in five or six steps. So, how can some 20, 25 women, some of whom are incar­cer­at­ed with their chil­dren, cram into such tight spaces?
  • In over­crowd­ed quar­ters, the sit­u­a­tion for women with chil­dren is awful. The nor­mal rou­tine of the oth­er detainees who nat­u­ral­ly wish to watch tele­vi­sion, lis­ten to music, sing, dis­cuss, becomes a real hell for the women with chil­dren. The over­crowd­ing prob­lem must be resolved before every­thing else, because it falls on peo­ple like a psy­cho­log­i­cal suf­fer­ing. More­over, it also caus­es a num­ber of prob­lems of hygiene and health.
  • Anoth­er impor­tant prob­lem involves the delays in the pro­ce­dures between arrest and incar­cer­a­tion, up to the first hear­ing in the tri­al. Even if the tri­al ends in an acquit­tal, the women find them­selves with a prison sen­tence. This wait­ing peri­od can last at least 7, 8 months. And this prac­tice is also used, con­scious­ly I think, in the frame­work of “tam­ing” policies.
  • Dur­ing that peri­od, women await­ing their fate in a cli­mate of wor­ry, fear and stress can­not com­mu­ni­cate cor­rect­ly with their fam­i­ly, com­pan­ions and chil­dren on the out­side. Because the pris­on­ers are incar­cer­at­ed in pris­ons locat­ed hun­dreds of kilo­me­ters away from their home and their fam­i­ly. This is indeed anoth­er very impor­tant prob­lem and one more seri­ous still for young moth­ers, because they are sep­a­rat­ed from their chil­dren on the out­side, and for good. The eco­nom­ic cri­sis adds fur­ther dif­fi­cul­ties. For exam­ple, a woman whose home is in Istan­bul is deport­ed to Tar­sus prison, some 950 km away. The mat­ter isn’t sim­ply set­tled with trip from Istan­bul to Tar­sus. The pris­ons are built far out­side the towns. In order to reach them, you must find your own means of trans­porta­tion, a col­lec­tive trans­porter where it exists, or a taxi…There is also the return, the meals, the overnight stay… In the end, fam­i­lies must spend a for­tune for the vis­its. And all that for what? For a vis­it last­ing a max­i­mum of 45 min­utes, cur­rent­ly reduced to 30 min­utes! Nat­u­ral­ly, the pris­on­ers feel oblig­ed to tell their fam­i­lies “don’t come, don’t spend all that mon­ey just for a half-hour.” 
  • The com­mon-law detainees worked in “work homes”, usu­al­ly in tex­tile. Dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, they con­stant­ly sewed cov­er­alls and masks. They also han­dle the clean­ing in the estab­lish­ment, dis­trib­ute the meals to the staff and to the quar­ters, man­age the can­teen, and also work in oth­er sec­tions such as the infir­mary or a tea cor­ner. Almost all the bur­den of the prison rests on the back of com­mon-law detainees. Despite the fact they leave for work in the morn­ing and come back at 5 in the evening, they are paid a month­ly salary of 200, 250 Turk­ish lira (equiv­a­lent to 14, 15 euro) and of course, have no social secu­ri­ty. This amounts to seri­ous exploita­tion. The women know it, but so as not to remain 7 days out of 7, 24 hours out of 24 in the stuffy atmos­phere of the over­crowd­ed quar­ters, and in order to cov­er a min­i­mum of their finan­cial needs, they tru­ly wish to work. In the “closed” pris­ons of course, only “deserv­ing” pris­on­ers, select­ed by the admin­is­tra­tion, can work. As for “open” pris­ons, work is manda­to­ry for every­one there, whether you want it or not.
  • Con­cern­ing hygiene and health, as I said ear­li­er, in the over­crowd­ed quar­ters, ill­ness­es thrive. You can be very clean and cau­tious, you still can­not avoid ill­ness­es. Pri­or to the Covid pan­dem­ic, the new pris­on­ers were direct­ly assigned to the quar­ters, with­out any pre­lim­i­nary health con­trol. Cas­es of hepati­tis, eczema, vagi­nal infec­tions, fun­gus, but also lice and mange… For instance, in Tar­sus prison, an infes­ta­tion of lice spread out into all the quar­ters, and proved impos­si­ble to erad­i­cate for months.
  • Access to the infir­mary is prob­lem­at­ic in many pris­ons. A gen­er­al­ist comes to the prison, once or twice a week for one hour. And there are hun­dreds of requests for an infir­mary visit…Under these con­di­tions, only select­ed pris­on­ers can go to the infir­mary. If, fol­low­ing this vis­it, a trans­fer to the hos­pi­tal is required, the prob­lem increas­es. Trans­fer to the hos­pi­tal can last for an hour, an hour and a half. You cov­er this dis­tance hand­cuffed, in a cel­lu­lar vehi­cle called a “Ring” that looks like a cof­fin. The air inside the vehi­cle can­not be con­trolled, it’s either hot­ter than in hell, or your teeth chat­ter from the cold. Many women don’t want to go to the hos­pi­tal so as to avoid this suf­fer­ing, and attempt to ease their pains with tem­po­rary solu­tions, painkillers…Personally, I always tried to avoid going to the hos­pi­tal and always came back from it feel­ing worse than when I left.
    There are oth­er prob­lems in the hos­pi­tal itself… The sol­diers attempt to wit­ness the    con­sul­ta­tion, you are refused the removal of handcuffs…
  • In many pris­ons, books sent from the out­side are not accept­ed. In some, they are accept­ed but on a quo­ta sys­tem: you are enti­tled to a max­i­mum of five books per quar­ter, in some pris­ons the quo­ta is ten, this all depends of the administration’s good will.
  • Dis­ci­pli­nary sanc­tions are anoth­er of the major prob­lems. You can be sub­ject­ed to a dis­ci­pli­nary sanc­tion for a word, depend­ing of the inten­tions of the lead­ers and of the offi­cers respon­si­ble for the appli­ca­tion of the law and its pro­tec­tion (İKM).. Accord­ing to the rul­ing of the Min­istry of Jus­tice, the “mil­i­tary tal­ly” which is con­trary to human dig­ni­ty was abol­ished but it is still imposed in a num­ber of places. When I was deport­ed to the prison in Tar­sus, for five days, morn­ing and night, I was dis­turbed for my refusal of this prac­tice. Because of imposed dis­ci­pli­nary sanc­tions, pris­on­ers can­not access their rights to lib­er­ty under cus­tody, this is anoth­er prob­lem. Cur­rent­ly, we are informed that the coun­cils do not autho­rize lib­er­a­tions even if the detainees are not under dis­ci­pli­nary sanctions.
  • Search­es are con­duct­ed in dif­fer­ent ways. If it involves a “detailed search”, all your per­son­al items are searched. Objects that are nor­mal­ly autho­rized, for exam­ple, two pil­lows, may be removed dur­ing the search. Search­es are like elec­tric wires, under high tension. .
  • Every month, prison admin­is­tra­tions dis­trib­ute hygien­ic prod­ucts and nap­kins to the detainees. But the min­istry does not pro­vide cred­its for this and requires the admin­is­tra­tion to han­dle these expens­es out of their own bud­gets. And in fact, it often hap­pens in many pris­ons that the admin­is­tra­tions lim­it the dis­trib­uted prod­ucts. Some only dis­trib­ute jav­el water and san­i­tary nap­kins, oth­ers deter­gent only… On this top­ic, there is no fair­ness between estab­lish­ments, nor any kind of coordination.
  • I also note that pris­on­ers who wish to pur­sue their stud­ies are not treat­ed equi­tably from one estab­lish­ment to anoth­er. It hap­pens that study books are not pro­vid­ed or again that exam­i­na­tion dates are passed on too late, etc.

What oth­er dif­fi­cul­ties do pris­on­ers expe­ri­ence while in cus­tody or after sentencing?

In the last five years, in five dif­fer­ent pris­ons, I came across as many women who had been sub­ject­ed to tor­ture by ISIS, women who were attempt­ing to sur­vive in prison with their new­born, women who did not speak a sin­gle word of Turk­ish, women who were illit­er­ate, and women who were total­ly igno­rant of their rights.

The chil­dren sad­dened me the most. I must say that on the part of the State and of kind peo­ple, there is a cer­tain aid for the babies and the chil­dren in pris­ons. Just about all of their vital needs have been thought of. But that changes noth­ing to the dai­ly real­i­ty of the child liv­ing in a prison block. Even if there are day­care cen­ters in the estab­lish­ments and if the chil­dren attend the cen­ters dur­ing the week, their life is still spent inside a prison block. Con­se­quent­ly, all the dif­fi­cul­ties and prob­lems expe­ri­enced by their moth­er reflect psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly on them also.

In Tar­sus, we had a baby from Afrin, Lilaf. There was a baby in the quar­ter, but no crib… The girls made a kind of impro­vised crib with ropes and sheets. And one day, our baby fell from this crib on to the con­crete floor, and on her head. Only after this acci­dent did we man­age through our cries and plead­ings to obtain a stroller. And this was excep­tion­al, just for Lilaf.

There are many con­di­tions designed to smoth­er the women. So-called “leisure” activ­i­ties are for­bid­den for polit­i­cal detainees, we can only go to the sports hall once a week for an hour. The women are ter­ri­bly bored. And if there is a dis­ci­pli­nary sanc­tion, this sole oppor­tu­ni­ty is also sup­pressed. The detainees are enti­tled to one week­ly phone call for 10 min­utes dura­tion. Yes, but what can one say, exchange, in so lit­tle time? The more the moth­ers choke on their tears, the more the chil­dren choke and cry…

When I became aware of the sto­ries told by the com­mon law detainees I observed that most of them had been pushed to com­mit­ting var­i­ous offences and crimes  for which they were incar­cer­at­ed, espe­cial­ly drugs, by men. Their hus­bands, their lovers had accus­tomed them to drugs, then moved them over into the sales, etc. Then, the women pay the  price. The crim­i­nal field is a zone where gen­dered social inequal­i­ties grow as in an avalanche, and it is too easy to accuse the women by con­cen­trat­ing sole­ly on the act com­mit­ted, inde­pen­dent­ly of the con­di­tions and con­text. But the real­i­ty is almost always dif­fer­ent. Social­ly gen­dered inequal­i­ties imposed on women are unfor­tu­nate­ly ignored in the law.


What needs to be done to stop these ill treat­ments and vio­la­tions of rights?

  • In my opin­ion, most of the peo­ple impris­oned are con­demned for offences that did not require an incar­cer­a­tion. Those who are impris­oned for their shar­ing on social net­works, for exam­ple. They say that in Turkey free­dom of expres­sion exists, this is not true. I per­son­al­ly met those who were in prison for shar­ings on Twit­ter, Facebook…Although they are freed at the end of the judi­cia­ry process, in gen­er­al, they stay in prison, await­ing their tri­al for at least sev­en, eight months, in order to be “tamed”. This is a pol­i­cy. Per­sons mak­ing use of the right to free­dom of expres­sion must not be in prison.
  • My sec­ond impor­tant demand is about the trans­fer of detainees toward pris­ons locat­ed in their place of res­i­dence, close to their fam­i­ly. Because under cur­rent con­di­tions, even if fam­i­ly vis­its are autho­rized, their rel­a­tives can­not come to visit.
  • Sanc­tions of cel­lu­lar iso­la­tion must be sup­pressed. Espe­cial­ly fol­low­ing Garibe Gezer’s deaths, this is more than necessary.
  • Admin­is­tra­tors and pen­i­ten­tiary staff are in urgent need of train­ing in human rights and democ­ra­cy, because many of them think they are the Min­is­ter of Jus­tice in per­son and are allowed to per­se­cute the detainees. Although it is not part of their duties to judge and to pun­ish peo­ple for their cimes, they do so with­out bat­ting an eye, with prej­u­dices and demean­ing qual­i­fiers. For exam­ple, they can address them­selves to the pris­on­ers, qual­i­fy­ing them of “ter­ror­ists”.
  • The quo­tas deal­ing with books and cloth­ing must be raised. Any­thing that can allow the detainees to feel bet­ter in order to learn, enrich their life, edu­cate them­selves, must be open to them. Books and cloth­ing are not threats to security!
  • Three med­ical doc­tors, work­ing 24 hours out of the 24 should be appoint­ed in each pen­i­ten­tiary estab­lish­ment. The cur­rent prac­tice of fam­i­ly doc­tors, avail­able in two or three estab­lish­ment for two hours, one or two days a week, must be dropped.
  • Cof­fin-like “Ring” vehi­cles used for hos­pi­tal trans­fers and oth­er trans­fers must be retired and replaced with minibus-type vehi­cle allow­ing the detainees to breathe and to be moved in way respect­ing their human dignity.
  • Humil­i­at­ing prac­tices such as the intro­duc­tion of sol­diers in med­ical exam­i­na­tion rooms, med­ical exams while hand­cuffed and “mouth search­es” must be eliminated.
  • All rul­ings must be brought into con­for­mi­ty with human rights and demo­c­ra­t­ic norms so as to elim­i­nate per­se­cu­tion by ill-inten­tioned administrators.
  • Instead of humil­i­at­ing prac­tices such as “strip search­es”, X ray equip­ment and detec­tors should be placed in all estab­lish­ments and search­es con­duct­ed in this manner.
  • Detainees receiv­ing train­ing must have the pos­si­bil­i­ty to study and to pass their exams, and their man­u­als must be pro­vid­ed immediately.
  • Women with chil­dren should nev­er be incarcerated…

Aslıhan Gençay

For other “Prison Notes”, follow this link.

Aslıhan Gençay
Aslıhan Gençay was born in 1974 and obtained a diploma from the Economic and Administrative Sciences Faculty of Izmir’s Dokuz Eylül University. Because of her identity as a leftist opponent, she was imprisoned for 10 years in 1992. She still bears the sequels of her “fast to the death”, hunger strikes, carried out in prisons in the year 2000. Following her liberation for health reasons, she began working as a a journalist. She wrote for the RadikalMilliyet Sanat and edited the art and culture pages in Özgür Gündem. In 2016, a reprieve by the European Court of Human Rights was annulled and she was re-imprisoned for five years to carry out the rest of her sentence in the prisons of Sincan (Ankara), Tarsus, Kayseri and Sivas. She regained her freedom in May 2021. She is currently a chronicler for Davul Gazetesi and editor for an NGO.

Translation from French by Renée Lucie Bourges

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