LGBTI Inmates

The prison system and issues of LGBTI inmates in Turkey

Gay inmate: “It wears me down to be penalized on top of my sentence”

“Some of us only wish for a cup of tea.”

Source: “Hücre cezası uygulanan eşcinsel: Ceza içinde ceza yatmak beni çok yıpratıyor” (“Gay inmate: It wears me down to be penalized on top of my sentence”), T24, 1 December 2015, http://t24.com.tr/haber/hucre-cezasi-uygulanan-escinsel-ceza-icinde-ceza-yatmak-beni-cok-yipratiyor,318524

14 LGBTI inmates in Alanya L-Type Closed Prison are serving time in solitary cells – a practice that only applies to convicts sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment – and are denied a special ward despite their numbers. Lawyers affiliated with the Alanya Board of Women’s Rights say, “The convicts are held in confinement 23 hours a day and are let out for fresh air for only an hour.” The convicts reported on their situation in letters that they sent to non-governmental organizations:

“I feel suffocated. It wears me down to be in a situation I did not deserve and to be penalized on top of my sentence. … I am only allowed to get fresh air in the yard for an hour a day as if I am sentenced to solitary confinement. If I were, it would not feel this horrible.”

“There are 15-20 of us here with reports that identify us as gays. But they don’t open a ward for us. We are serving our time like our friends who are sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment. The well-off ones among us have things like a TV, a fridge, or an electric teapot. Others don’t have anything and only wish for a cup of tea. If there was a ward and we all lived there, we would at least have an environment to share things among us.”

“They only let us out for an hour a day and they let us out one by one. I can’t sit down and have a conversation with any one of my gay friends. You could guess that we are already ostracized by our families because we’re gay. Our mental state is already off. We need to support each other at times like these, but we’re further banished by the government instead.”

Turkey had been convicted

Turkey was convicted by the European Court of Human Rights as a result of a lawsuit known as “X v. Turkey” about a gay individual who was confined to a solitary cell for 8 months. It is also against Turkish law to confine an inmate to a solitary cell without a sentence to that effect.

“The capacity is much higher [than stated]”

During the lawyers’ visit, prison director Ali Şeref Gül reportedly said, “The prison has a capacity of 480 inmates, though it currently holds more than 1600 convicts and detainees. So it is difficult to assign a special ward for people suffering from homosexuality.”

The capacity of the prison is stated as 1820 inmates on the website of the Ministry of Justice. The prison authorities that we were able to reach stated that the capacity is higher than 1820 inmates.

Several NGOs are collecting signatures for a petition to lift the solitary confinement penalty on gay inmates and vowed to follow up with the petition. The following is a list of the NGOs behind the petition:

 

Afyon LGBTİ Kuruluşu

Akdeniz Pembe Caretta LGBTQ

Bilgi Gökkuşağı

Boğaziçi Üniversitesi LGBTİ Çalışmaları Kulübü (BÜLGBTİ)

Boğaziçi Üniversitesi Sosyal Hizmet Kulübü (BUSOS)

Bursa Özgür Renkler LGBTİ

Ceza İnfaz Sisteminde Sivil Toplum Derneği (CİSST)

Cinsel Şiddetle Mücadele Derneği

Çağdaş Hukukçular Derneği İstanbul Şubesi

Dokuz Eylül Üniversitesi Eşit Şerit Topluğu

Edirne LGBTİ Çalışma Grubu

Erktolia

Erzincan Katre Kadın Oluşumu

Flu Baykuş

Görülmüştür

Hebun LGBT Diyarbakır

Hevi LGBTİ

İnsan Hakları Derneği Genel Merkez

İnsan Hakları Derneği İstanbul Şubesi

İnsan Hakları Derneği Sakarya Şubesi

İstanbul LGBTİ Dayanışma Derneği

İzmir LGBTİ İnisiyatifi

Kaos GL

KESK Kadın Meclisi

Keskesor LGBTİ Diyarbakır Oluşumu

Kırmızı Şemsiye Cinsel Sağlık ve İnsan Hakları Derneği

Lambda İstanbul Derneği

LGBTİ Aileleri ve Yakınları Derneği (LİSTAG)

Liseli LGBTİ

Mahsus Mahal

Malatya Gökkuşağı LGBTİ İnisiyatifi

Mersin 7 Renk LGBTİ Derneği

Moira Kadın Dayanışma Derneği

MorEL LGBTİ

Muş Kadın Derneği (Mukadder)

Özgürlükçü Hukukçular Derneği

Pembe Hayat LGBTT Dayanışma Derneği

Pozitif Yaşam Derneği

Sınır Tanımayan Kadınlar / Göçmen Kadınlarla Dayanışma Grubu

Siyah Pembe Üçgen İzmir

Sosyal Politikalar Cinsiyet Kimliği ve Cinsel Yönelim Çalışmaları Derneği (SPoD)

T-Klüp

Toplumsal Dayanışma İçin Psikologlar Derneği

Toplumsal Haklar ve Araştırmalar Derneği

Trabzon Mor Balık LGBT

Yeni Demokrat Kadın

Yoğurtçu Kadın Forumu

Queer Documentaries

Brazilian Trans Inmate in Turkey: “I live like a dog”

Brazilian trans inmate’s cell protest in Maltepe prison: “I am victimized here and isolated.” 

Source: Damla Yur, “Köpek gibi yaşıyorum,” (“I live like a dog”), Cumhuriyet, 2 September 2015, http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/turkiye/358213/_Kopek_gibi_yasiyorum_.html

There are 79 LGBTI individuals in prison according to the data collected by the Ministry of Justice. 71 of these individuals have been convicted of crimes and 8 are detainees. While LGBT individuals are held, respectively, in groups 9 or 3 in maximum and minimum penal institutions, in five prisons they are being held in single cells.  As subjects of isolated detainment, they are particularly vulnerable to mistreatment and abuse.  

LGBTI individuals who are foreign nationals struggle with similar problems in Turkish prisons. The victimization experienced in Maltepe Prison was documented in a letter sent to the LGBT in Prison Group organized under the umbrella of the NGO Civil Society in the Penal System.

The Brazilian trans inmate penned the victimization they endured in a letter dated August 27, 2015:

I am still in a cell, I cannot go to the ward. I went to the director but they told me there is no ward. We are held separately in individual cells. The cells are horrible, I cannot bear it. They are very dirty. They are holding us in cells. Maltepe No. 3 [prison] is not suitable for us, we need to go back to No. 1. I am victimized here and isolated. I would like to be with my Turkish gay friends. Still no response from the Ministry of Justice. Foreign men are free to do things. We, on the other hand, are kept in cells. Believe me, I live like a dog. No table, no television, no chair, nothing. I eat on the floor. My morale is gone. I do not know how much more I can bear this. It is very bad indeed. Even a dog would not be able to stay here. I am very distressed, I am dying.”

“Kaos GL is obscene, cannot be allowed in prisons”

At the same time, due to the recent increase in banned media in prisons, 21 NGOs penned a public statement titled, “Arbitrary bans on media in prisons must stop!” The statement noted that Leman, Uykusuz and Penguen were banned in Kandıra No.1 F type prison on account of being “objectionable,” Kaos GL journal was banned in Bafra T type closed prison because of its obscene content, and copies of Volçark, an edited volume that compiles the stories of LGBTI inmates, was rejected by the prisons they were sent to.

Sexual Harassment and Attack Against Trans Women at Bakırköy Women’s Prison

Sexual harassment and attacks against LGBTI activists visiting Bakırköy Women’s Prison continue.

Source:“Bakırköy Kadın Kapalı Cezaevinde Translara Cinsel Taciz ve Saldırı”, (“Sexual Harassment and Attack Against Trans Women at Bakırköy Women’s Prison”), Pembe Hayat, 18 July 2015, http://pembehayat.org/haberler.php?id=818

Yağmur Beyrut Afşar, an LGBTI activist who went to Bakırköy Women’s Prison to visit an inmate, was denied a security search by female guards due to her trans identity at the prison’s 2nd checkpoint. After being directed to the security line for male visitors, Afşar refused the search. Afşar argued with a male guard who harassed her by “sticking out his tongue” and left the room.

Not the first instance of hate against trans visitors

Last month, Kıvılcım Arat, the general secretary of Istanbul LGBTI Solidarity Association and an activist for the Democratic Women’s Movement, was subjected to a forced search by guards and organized harassment by soldiers.

Three-month visiting penalty

Last week, Arat visited the prison again and was told by the guards that her friend had received a three-month revocation of visiting privileges. Arat was shown a report that cited “insulting the officer on duty” as the reason of the penalty.

Ebru Kırancı: We will go to court if necessary

The president of the Istanbul LGBTI Solidarity Association Ebru Kırancı noted that the government’s prison practices are systematic: “They are trying to oppress the revolutionary women that they have incarcerated within the prison and by harassing and keeping away their visitors. Of course, we are dealing with the issue of transphobia in addition to the isolation that they impose on women. I think this is a practice to discourage trans women from visiting inmates. They hope that trans women will give up on visits because of the undignified searches and harassment carried out by male guards. Of course, they are forgetting that trans women won’t comply by pressure, brutality, or mistreatment. If these procedures were successful, the pressure from the state and society would have already changed things. We will take the transphobic attacks in prisons to court if necessary.

Rights Organizations in Turkey: End the Unjust Suffering of LGBTI Prisoners

Twenty-eight LGBTI and human rights organizations* released a statement regarding the isolation of trans women who are not Turkish citizens at Maltepe Prison and demanded that the prisoners’ suffering be ended by bringing them together again.

Source: “Hak Örgütleri: LGBTİ Mahpusların Mağduriyetini Giderin” (“Rights Organizations: End the Unjust Suffering of LGBTI Prisoners”), Bianet, 14 July 2015, http://bianet.org/bianet/lgbti/166036-hak-orgutleri-lgbti-mahpuslarin-magduriyetini-giderin

Twenty-eight LGBTI and human rights organizations released a statement related to the transfer of non-Turkish-citizen trans women at Maltepe Prison to another prison on the same campus.

Addressing the Ministry of Justice’s General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Houses, the rights organizations requested that these prisoners be reunited and that an end be put to their unjust suffering.

The organizations’ statement is as follows:

In June, twenty-one LGBTI prisoners in the Maltepe Type-L Penal Institution Number 2 were transferred to the Maltepe Type-L Penal Institution Number 1. Later LGBTI prisoners from Turkey and non-citizen trans woman prisoners were separated from one another and five prisoners were brought to the Maltepe Type-L Penal Institution Number 3.

In light of this situation, the LGBTI prisoners from Turkey and the foreign trans woman prisoners wrote letters criticizing the transfers and sent them to civil society organizations.

The prisoners indicated that there was no separation among themselves, as from Turkey or as foreigners, and that the prisoners who did not receive money from outside could rely on the help of the other prisoners to meet their needs, but said that following the transfers this solidarity had disappeared and that they had been made to suffer.

Most notably, one Azerbaijani and four Brazilian trans women prisoners who were transferred to Penal Institution Number 3 express that they can no longer meet any of their needs. They also wrote that until some of the Turkish and foreign trans woman prisoners are brought together again they will go on hunger strike:

‘We had been living with them for about four years. After all, all of us are homosexual [sic]. Currently we are on hunger strike. We are suffering a lot here. The Turkish homosexuals [sic] were giving us financial and moral support. I am doing very badly now. I am on hunger strike, and my strike will continue until I return to my Turkish friends. If it goes on like this I am going to die here; I want you to help me. There are four of us. I want you to help us reunite with the Turkish homosexuals [sic].’

‘We LGBTI individuals were brought from L-Type Number 2 to here, Number 1. As a matter of fact, before our Brazilian friends who we lived with could stay with us for even ten days, they came to take them saying that because they were foreigners they would be transferred to Number 3. And now a letter from Rafael Q. Alves De Souza has come to me. She expressed that her situation was dire, that because of her location she had been assimilated and that she needed my help, and that she could not eat and was in very poor mental state. She stated that the Consulate had not come to see her [or her compatriots] and that they could not reach them. Additionally, we had been sharing a common fate as a dormitory, staying in the same one together for two and a half years. We used to help her communicate with her family. The economic and social aspects [of our life here] were based on our unity and we are very upset by this now. We are prepared to do whatever we need to do. This situation has worn us out too and our mental wellbeing has broken down.’

‘We were twenty-one prisoners, now we are sixteen. We were already living completely isolated from the others for safety reasons. Between the twenty-one of us fighting and making peace we had created a world. Now our world is even smaller. Please explain this to the Ministry; we are small in number and alone, do not let them separate us more and leave us on our own. Have them return [our friends] to us again.’

When the characteristics of prisons are considered it is understood that the foreign trans prisoners were brought to Maltepe Type-L Department of Corrections Number 3 so they could be placed with other foreign prisoners. The General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Houses and the prison management may have put a transfer like this one on the agenda to allow prisoners to be visited by their consulates. However this transfer was undertaken despite not having taken the prisoners’ opinions into consideration, and the possible hardships were not foreseen.

So that similar undue suffering is not experienced again, when making decisions about prisoners, the opinions of the prisoners and relevant civil society organizations should be taken into account and a mechanism for them to present their views in these decision-making processes should be created.

Signatories: Afyon LGBTI Foundation, Civil Society in the Penal System (CİSST), Edirne LGBTI Work Group, Association for Monitoring Equal Rights (ESHİD), Initiative for Health in Prison, Hebun LGBT, Hevi LGBTI, Human Rights Association Headquarters, Foundation for Women’s Solidarity, Kaos GL, Kars Platform Against Homophobia and Transphobia, Keskesor LGBT, Red Umbrella Sexual Health and Human Rights Association, Lambdaistanbul, Families of LGBTs in Istanbul (LİSTAG), Limbo Concept, Mahsus Mahal Association, Malatya Rainbow LGBTI Initiative, Liberal Lawyers Association, Pink Life LGBTT Solidarity Association, Positive Living Association, Human Rights in Mental Health Association (RUSİHAK), Black Pink Triangle İzmir Association, Social Policies, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Studies Association (SPoD), Trabzon Purple Figh LGBT, Trans Solidarity Center (T-Der), Turkey Human Rights Foundation (TİHV), Queer Documentaries.

*The number of signatories is now 29 with Istanbul LGBTI Solidarity Association.

Foreign LGBTI inmates are on hunger strike in Turkey

Brazilian and Azerbaijani trans women were separated from LGBTI inmates from Turkey in Maltepe Prison and transferred to a different section. The women say they have been deprived of their friends’ financial and psychological help and have started a hunger strike for being kept in isolation.

Source: Ayça Söylemez, “Trans Kadın Mahpuslara Tecrit İçinde Tecrit”, (“Isolation within Isolation for Trans Women Inmates”), July 6, 2015, http://bianet.org/bianet/lgbti/165825-trans-kadin-mahpuslara-tecrit-icinde-tecrit

Non-Turkish citizen trans women at Maltepe Prison were taken to a different section in the same prison. Five of the 21 LGBTI inmates, four Brazilian, one Azerbaijani citizen, have started a hunger strike on the grounds that they were separated from their friends and “are living in isolation within isolation”.

On June 8, LGBTI inmates were taken from Maltepe C Type No 1 Prison to L Type No 3 Closed Prison, to ward B-9. The inmates have written that their Turkish friends had been helping them, and with this transfer they were left on their own, that they have no financial income and that their psychological state has deteriorated.

Among the trans women transferred to another section, Brazilian citizen Rafael Q. Alves de Sousa has told in her letter dated June 9, that they have been staying together with LGBTI inmates for the last four years and now were victimized.

Sousa, writing that the Turkish [trans inmates] have been helping them both financially and spiritually, told that the hunger strike will continue until they are taken back to their friends.

trbuyuk“I don’t even have money to buy water”

Azerbaijani trans woman inmate, who does not wish her name to be disclosed, has told Civil Society in the Penal System Foundation (CİSST) her experience and has written the following in her letter dated June 17:

“I’m in solitary here, I’m sentenced to 30 years 6 months. My sentence is too long, I can’t stay here on my own. I’m severely victimized, I don’t have a dime. When we were in the same ward, my friends would cover all my needs, now I’m psychologically traumatized. I’m in a very small space here.”

“They should take me back to Prison No.1. I wrote to the Ministry of Justice but there were no replies, I’m in an awful state. I’ve been on hunger strike since June 8. It’s very bad here, they are treating me very bad, they make fun of me, it is not suitable for me at all. I used to eat everything but now I don’t even have money for water. I drink from the tap.”

The inmate, who has tried to commit suicide when her demands were not fulfilled, wrote that her friends in her former ward understood her well but now she is alone.

“Our world got even smaller”

This is what the Turkish trans female inmate wrote to CİSST:

“We used to be 21 inmates, we are down to 16. We already lived in complete isolation on the grounds of security. We built a world of our own, 21 one of us, fighting and making truce. Now our world got even smaller. Please tell the Ministry, we are only a handful and alone, they shouldn’t separate us and make us lonelier. They should give our friends back to us.”

İHD: Isolation, psychological torture

The Human Rights Association (İHD) Prison Commission of Istanbul Branch has demanded that the isolation be ended in a July 4 press release about the trans women inmates:

“We consider this legally ungrounded situation as exile, isolation and psychological torture. The inmates have indicated in their letter that they were in dire straits economically and that they have solidarity when in the company of their friends.”

“The trans female inmate has written to us that the Azerbaijani Consulate has not taken care of the matter, that the lawyer appointed by the bar did not show up at court giving an excuse, that she gave her own defense against the prosecutor’s arguments, receiving a sentence of 30 years 6 months for murder in the first degree in spite of the incident being a case of self-defense. Their only wish is to go back being together with their Turkish friends.”

LGBTI inmates

According to the latest report of CİSST, the number of LGBTI inmates in Turkey remains unknown because the Ministry does not disclose this information, on the grounds of the “right to privacy”. Here is some information from the report on LGBTI inmates:

In Turkish prisons people are assigned to places based on the gender defined by their ID cards, which means that trans women who have not gone through a gender reassignment surgery are kept in a men’s prison, trans men in a women’s prison.

Gay inmates who are known to be or who have declared that they are gay or bisexual are assigned to the trans women’s ward in the men’s prison or remain in solitary cells. The women who are “understood” to be lesbians or bisexuals in women’s prisons may be taken to separate wards.

LGBTI inmates, especially trans women kept in men’s prisons are kept in separate wards or rooms on the grounds that they can be harmed by male inmates, they are not taken out to the workshops or courses, they cannot use the common spaces. The isolation is more severe in places where LGBTI inmates are fewer.

Gender reassignment in prison, approved!

28 year-old Y.A., a convict in Maltepe prison was granted the right to change gender following the issue of a doctor’s report stating the inmate had gender dysphoria

Source: Radikal, “Cezaevinde cinsiyet değişimine onay!” (“Gender reassignment in prison, approved!”), Radikal, 20 January 2015, http://www.radikal.com.tr/turkiye/cezaevinde_cinsiyet_degisimine_onay-1276212

Y.A., a 28 year-old convict having issues with their sexual identity, applied to the court while in Maltepe prison to change their name and gender. Last year in January, following the issue of a doctor’s report stating that they had gender dysphoria, Y.A. legally changed her name to Asli A. at the 6th Anatolia Civil Court. Within a month of the name change, Asli A.’s request to change their gender was approved.

GENDER REASSIGNMENT REQUEST APPROVED

Reaching a verdict on Asli A.’s request, in which she stated she is transsexual and deeming gender reassignment as vital to her mental well-being, the 22nd Anatolia Civil Court instructed a report be issued by Marmara University Pendik Learning and Research Hospital. Diagnosing Asli A. as suffering from gender dysphoria, the report concluded it was crucial that her biological identity match her female psycho-sexual identity to safeguard her mental well-being. The report added, “It is important and essential for the person’s mental well-being that the prison conditions are adapted to correspond to her sexual identity and the necessary supplies are provided for her personal care. No objections on the basis of mental health were found against the surgery to reassign the person’s gender as female.”

LETTER TO THE PROSECUTOR

One year on from the court’s decision, the execution of Asli A.’s gender reassignment surgery was still pending when she wrote a letter to Servet Kartal, Anatolia’s 1st Prosecuting Judge. Noting that Kartal had previously approved a similar request from inmate Deniz C. and had directed the Penal Prosecution Office to do what was necessary, Asli A. demanded that the same decision be made for her case, expressing that her surgery was being obstructed by the Penal Prosecution Office.

“THE DEEP SADNESS PEOPLE FEEL WHEN THEY HAVE ISSUES WITH THEIR PHYSICAL APPEARANCE”

Anatolia 1st Prosecuting Judge Servet Kartal stated that the inmate’s transsexuality meant her gender needed to be immediately reassigned as female and failing to do so would otherwise lead to mental health problems as outlined in the hospital report. In his two-page verdict Kartal wrote, “The execution of this procedure should be imminent taking into account the deep sadness and shame people feel when have issues with their physical appearance, and the irreparable negative consequences this may have on the inmate’s mental health. This is of the same significance as having physical health issues, and therefore the execution of the procedure should be imminent, as prolonging the inmate’s wait for surgery constitutes a risk on the inmate’s life due to the threat of a mental breakdown.

Noting that the inmate, having been diagnosed with “gender dysphoria”, was being kept in prison conditions against her will, the verdict stated, “In order to uphold the right of the inmate to live according to his will, noting that gender reassignment is legally allowed to take place during imprisonment, providing the cost of the surgery is borne by the inmate and the necessary security measures are taken, it was decided that this letter be written to the Maltepe Penal Prosecution Directorate to notify the Ministry of Justice in order for the inmate to be transferred to a state hospital with the equipment and capacity to perform the surgery.”

The verdict, emphasising the immediacy of the surgery, was sent to the Maltepe Penal Prosecution Directorate.

Civil Society Organizations: “LGBTI-only prison means institutionalizing discrimination!”

LGBTI organizations and CISST has stated that “LGBTI-only prison is the institutionalization of discrimination by the state” and reminded that mistreatment, molestation and rape are committed by prison personnel.

Source: “LGBTI hapishanesi, ayrımcılığı kurumsallaştırmaktır!”, (“LGBTI-only prison means institutionalizing discrimination!”), kaosGL.org, January 6, 2015, http://kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=18413

In a published letter, LGBTI organizations including Kaos GL and the Civil Society in the Penal System Foundation (CISST) issued a call to the Ministry of Justice regarding the planned LGBTI-only prison. The organizations expressed concern and summarized the process as follows:

“In their responses to a series of inquiries and requests for information, the Ministry of Justice announced that they will be building a special prison for LGBTI inmates and have continued to make announcements along the same lines. Most recently the response to a query by a trans inmate contains clearer information: “Our ministry has begun work on the project of building open and closed penal institutions where lesbians, gays, transsexuals and bisexuals will be held. The said project will be put out to tender and construction will commence in 2015 in Izmir province. Following the granting of tender and a construction site, the project will be completed within two years.’”

“The persistence of the Ministry of Justice has increased our concern”

Underlining the fact that the Ministry of Justice announcement foresees the completion of an LGBTI prison in 2017, the NGOs reminded the following points in their press statement:

“Every time the Ministry of Justice brings this issue on the agenda, we have made numerous statements in newspapers and magazines and we have participated in TV programs to express our concerns. The persistence of the Ministry of Justice on the project in utter disregard for these statements has further increased our concerns.”

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