Avşa’s Letter: Transsexuals and Turkish Prisons

Zafer Kıraç and Mustafa Eren, “Avşa’nın Mektubu, Translar ve Türkiye Hapishaneleri” (“Avşa’s Letter: Transsexuals and Turkish Prisons”) LGBT Hapiste, 4 May 2014, http://lgbthapiste.wordpress.com/2014/05/04/avsanin-mektubu-translar-ve-turkiye-hapishaneleri/

“Homosexuals are denied work in prison workshops; they are denied visits to the clinic; as well opportunities to exercise, go to the library, seek religious instruction, access theater, concerts or classes.Homosexuals are denied the right to breathe…”

“It is free to assault, pressure, physically or psychologically pressure, sexually assault, harass, threaten or insult homosexuals.” (Avşa)

Avşa, the trans inmate, has been exposed to abuses, ill treatments, harassments and rapes in prisons for years. She was brave to report these violations of rights to authorities by criminal complaints many times, but this only increased threats and attacks against her. Avşa wrote a letter to our organization (Civil Society in the Penal System Foundation – CISST) about what she has been through.

Avşa states that she has been incarcerated since 2006. She talks about the time in the Çorum L-type Closed Prison, where she went through harassment as well as oppression and psychological pressure. At first she filed a complaint about these wrongful acts but had to retract it after she was “threatened and harassed” by the prison administration. This was followed by the addition of another 4.5 years to her sentence due to “insulting an officer.”

She was then transferred to the Giresun E-type Closed Prison. As attacks against her continued, she was also subjected to “aggravated sexual assault” by a correctional officer. In other words, she was raped. She also brought this incident to trial and the Giresun Criminal Court sentenced the correctional officer, who had sexually assaulted Avşa, to 10 years and 6 months of imprisonment.

Avşa’s prison life became even more unbearable after her rapist correctional officer got  imprisoned by the court. She concludes:

“After this ugly and unpleasant incident became known in other prisons across the Black Sea Region, other officers started to harass and threaten me, I officially petitioned our Ministry of Justice. Due to security concerns I was relocated to prisons in other cities; first in Tokat, then Niğde, Gümüşhane and Bafra.”

In the Bafra T-type Prison, the latest facility she was sent to, Avşa and another trans inmate were sexually assaulted again. When they attempted to file a complaint, the officers tried to deter them from their complaints by threats and beat them until ‘their faces became unrecognizable.” Despite this officers’ attack on December 23rd 2013, Avşa and her friend were not deterred. Within that period, Avşa and her friend also began hunger strike because of all the pressure. Here Avşa explains their demands as they went on hunger strike:

“Our only demand is to ensure that justice will be served by investigating all evidence of our maltreatment, including my harassment and public beating, as well as the medical reports issued by the Bafra State Hospital, which specified my condition and the incident date in detail.”

Following the hunger strike, Avşa’s family successfully petitioned the Ministry of Justice for her transfer to a different prison and she was transferred to the Kocaeli 2 T-Type Closed Prison. After a constructive attempt at dialogue by the administration in Kocaeli, Avşa ended her hunger strike. However, she reports that she doesn’t know her friend’s condition and requests her transfer to the same prison.

“I am well aware that Göksel Önal, my sister by fate who has struggled with starvation for the past 72 days, is being left to die…. I am asking you for your help and support in order that my sister be transferred from Bafra Correctional Institution, where all kinds of beatings, assault and harassment are allowed to continue.”

Avşa’s statements can be perceived as one example of what other LGBTI inmates go through in prison. In addition to discrimination and maltreatment, the risk of rape and harassment is much higher as compared to other inmates’ experiences. You could be subjected to additional threats and assault if you want to bring your complaints to court. You could be countersued for “insulting a correctional officer” or “slander” in order to demoralize you and retract your complaint. In which case, you may get 4.5 years added to your sentence while your assaulter goes off scot-free. This is just one of the consequences. Another one would be sticking to your case; so that the officer in question is punished. Yet your remaining days in prison would turn into a miserable time through the effort of other officers believing in “personnel solidarity” and you would be hereafter labeled as a “difficult inmate.” From that time on, you would continue having problems in every prison you get transferred to; so much so that finally a hunger strike might seem like your only possible option. Avşa’s declaration is proof of such consequences.

Besides, Avşa’s account can also be seen as a premise to reevaluate the concept of a separate LGBTI prison that the government has recently brought up. All mistreatments, violence, harassment and rape to which Avşa has been exposed are carried out by prison personnel. In this case, we witness that all attempts and requests for official investigations regarding such situations are met with even larger threats and attacks. And the only response from Ministry of Justice and Directorate of Prison and Detention Houses is to transfer the inmate to a different prison. In the hypothetical case where a single LGBTI prison exists, it would not be even possible to transfer the inmate to a different location. The victim should be left to live with the same conditions and the same offending personnel. This means that a separate prison for LGBTI inmates would not be a solution but would only make matters worse for them.

The verdict of Avşa’s court case is very important. The allegations are serious and possible evidences include camera footage as well as hospital reports. If these allegations have not given way to a formal investigation yet, it should be started immediately and all those responsible, including officials who failed to report these crimes, must be brought to trial.

This case brings forth great responsibility to non-governmental organizations. It is necessary to keep the subject on the public agenda and be a strict follower. We, as Civil Society in the Penal System Foundation, pledge to follow this case up to the end.

All rape, harassment and mistreatment cases must be investigated; perpetrators should be identified and brought to trial.

Zafer Kıraç – Civil Society in the Penal System Foundation, CISST, Chairman of the Board

Mustafa Eren – Civil Society in the Penal System Foundation, Project Coordinator

May 4, 2014

P.S. Through her letter below, Avşa is reaching out for help. Those who wish to reach her can call +90 542 3367567 for more information.

AVŞA’S LETTER

My esteemed elders!..[1]

I would like to respond to all of the questions you posed by presenting concrete evidences provided by higher judiciary bodies and other higher authorities. I shall also present the declarations I offered when asked in the past towards accounting for the unjust treatment we continue to receive. Please, for GOD’S SAKE, I ask with my prayers and respect, from you to be attentive in regard to these unjust treatments and offer help…

Dear Sir!.. We have been in prison since 2006. In 2008, I was transferred to the Çorum, L Type Closed Prison. There, I was subjected to harassment as well as physical and psychological pressures about which I raised complaints. Upon complaining, we were assaulted and threatened and forced to withdraw my complaint [2]. As such, we found ourselves in the position of the accused, even though we were the victims. We were sentenced to 4.5 years in prison for offending civil servants. Then, in 2009, we were transferred by our MINISTRY to the Giresun E type Closed Prison because our lives were in danger. There, we were raped [3] by CORRECTION OFFICERS about which we raised a complaint. The judiciary got involved and the High Criminal Court of Giresun (2010/File Number 27 and 2010/55) ruled to approve that I was subjected to sexual assault. The correction officer was sentenced to 10 years and 6 months in prison. This decision MADE MY LIFE MISERABLE all over again. People in various prisons around the BLACK SEA region where I stayed knew about this ugly and unpleasant situation. This increased the pressure and threats I had to endure from the many civil servants in the region. I complained to our HIGHER MINISTRY OF JUSTICE. They transferred me to penal institutions in Tokat, Niğde, Gümüşhane and later to Bafra BECAUSE MY LIFE WAS IN DANGER.

Sir, in the Bafra prison, my partner in crime and my sister Göksel Önal experienced again what we had gone through in the Giresun prison. We were attacked sexually in Bafra too. We raised a complaint. We were beaten until one could no longer recognize our faces and threatened so that we would withdraw our complaints. But we did not give up despite the ASSAULT, THREATS and PRESSURES that we were subjected to on 23 December 2013. And now, my sister of fate, has OFFICIALLY stopped consuming food or liquids for 70 days and her condition is fatal. All of the details of my being assaulted and harassed can be found in camera records. These facts can also be proven through the HEALTH REPORTS of the BAFRA STATE HOSPITAL including information on precise dates and hours. Our unjust treatment is therefore clear and solid. Our only demand is for this to be acknowledged and for SUPREME JUSTICE to be restored. Upon being the victim of such treatment, we went on HUNGER STRIKE. During this time, my condition became FATAL and members of my family personally visited the ANKARA MINISTRY OF JUSTICE. Eighteen days ago, I was urgently transferred to the Kocaeli T Type Closed Prison Number 2. However, my sister of fate still remains in the BAFRA PENAL INSTITUTION and has been struggling against HUNGER for 72 days. I am WELL AWARE THAT SHE HAS OFFICIALLY BEEN LEFT TO DIE.

MY ESTEEMED ELDERS!.. THANK GOD our ESTEEMED CAMPUS PROSECUTOR has attended to these unjust treatments and assured us that necessary action would be taken. My ELDERS, I seek refuge in your compassion. I ask and PRAY that you help us too so that my sister can be transferred from the BAFRA Penal Institution where there are BEATINGS, HARASSMENT, ALL KINDS OF VIOLENCE and THREATS…

As per your questions about the CLINIC and our health problems: Let alone having access to the clinic, the BAFRA Penal Institution cancelled our appointments at the SAMSUN RESEARCH HOSPITAL where I received kidney treatment. We raised a criminal complaint by respective authorities when we were thus denied access to healthcare…

All homosexual inmates at the BAFRA PENAL INSTITUTION attempt suicide almost every day by cutting their own THROATS or consuming chemicals like bleach or anti-scale. The evidence for this can be easily obtained through Emergency Treatment Reports in hospitals.

Dear Sir;.. I AM SO SAD to say that homosexuals are denied work in prison workshops; they are denied visits to the clinic; as well opportunities to exercise, go to the library, seek religious instruction, access theater, concerts or classes. HOMOSEXUALS ARE DENIED THE RIGHT TO BREATHE…

Dear Sir;.. It is free to assault, pressure, physically or psychologically pressure, sexually assault, harass, threaten or insult homosexuals. We were not HOMOSEXUALS or CONVICTS when our MOTHERS gave birth to us. Even if we are homosexuals, we are still SUBJECTS OF THE CREATOR AND CHILDREN OF THIS HOMELAND…

With all my RESPECT, I present to you a very important footnote: At the BAFRA Penal Institute, normal male inmates can declare that they too are homosexuals and they are placed in the same wards as TRANSVESTITES…

MY ESTEEMED ELDERS…I have already stated that I try to survive by selling handicrafts. But recently, I have found myself in a situation where I cannot even hear my child’s voice over the phone because I do not have a phone card. I am so embarrassed to say that I have to beg the prison administration to receive detergent. I ask from you, for this once only and for GOD’S SAKE, to provide me with a very small amount of cash so that I can purchase materials for handicrafts. This would allow me to work, buy a phone card and hear my child’s voice. I would only accept this money on the condition of paying it back. I look forward to your help as I PRAY. I present here my prayers. MAY GOD BLESS YOU. I BEG OF YOU not to shun me.

With my respect,

21 April 2014

Convict

Translator’s Notes:

[1] The punctuation marks as well as capitalization of various words reflect the author’s orthography in Turkish.

[2] We have kept the mismatch between pronouns that exists in the original letter. The author of the letter frequently switches between the pronouns of “I” and “we” in reference to their own and their friend’s experiences.

[3] The original Turkish account includes the phrase “qualified sexual assault” which according to Turkish criminal law is sexual assault that involves the insertion of a sexual organ or an object into the victim’s body. Therefore, we have taken the liberty to translate this as “rape.”

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