trans inmates in Turkey

Arat: Two trans women or “sinners” in a Turkish prison

Diren is a trans woman who just entered her thirties. She will be subject to systematic torture inside an F-type prison cell coffin* for three more years. Buse, a trans woman in her forties, discovered her gender identity during her incarceration. She has been sentenced to life.

Source: Kıvılcım Arat, “Two sinners (!) at Tekirdağ No 2 [Prison] : Diren and Buse” (“Tekirdağ 2 Nolu’da İki Günahkar(!); Diren ve Buse”), Kıvılcım Arat, bianet, January 2, 2018,

On the road to Istanbul from Tekirdağ, I kept thinking about the value and meaning of our lives. I reflected on the struggle against the multiple discriminations we face, as well as how  limited and narrow the spaces of solidarity meant for empowering ourselves are.

The system and social life is designed through a binary gender regime. The problems generated by and the lives sacrificed in the name of this regime entangle not only trans women but also those who do not define themselves with binaries  in an inescapable spiral of violence.

Even though the imposed stereotypes of ideal men and women are not the same across communities, binary gender models are cultivated, spread, and institutionalized through a disparate array of social groups ranging from Islamists to Liberals, from Social Democrats to Socialists.

While cursing this system and its founders, I think about the resistance of the two sinners staying in the coffins of Tekirdağ No 2. I think about their unheard, unknown, unwritten resistance… and how forlorn this resistance is…

As the wheel of history keeps turning, someone writes that history. This is the reason I’m writing this story to you. To document the resistance of these two sinner women and to render it known to the world, in spite of the power of those who miswrite the present and obfuscate history.

Diren is a trans woman who just entered her thirties and is child of a family from Dersim [Tunceli]. Until last August, she was trying to hold onto  life in Amed [Diyarbakir] with a public trans identity. She has such a kind heart that every cat, whether tortured, disabled or infirm has certainly stayed in her home. And hers is not just an ordinary love of animals… It’s a feeling molded with consciousness. She is a vegan who feels the cruelty of the human species as a personal conviction. Diren is an amazing human who has understood the connection between a slice of cheese she eats and slavery. She is also a brave woman who has declared her conscientious objection.

As Diren was trying to hold onto this life with all the sensitivity she carries inside her, she faced the accusation of spreading [terror] propaganda and, without any tangible evidence, was unfortunately convicted of this crime. As a result of this conviction, she will be subject to systematic torture and isolation in F-type coffins for three more years.

Buse is a trans woman in her forties who came to define her gender identity during her incarceration and is the child of a family from Ağrı. Convicted for life, Erzurum State Security Court** indicted Buse where she stood trial without a defense attorney present. She has been in prison for twenty years and has another seventeen more years to spend in that dark cell.

What brings Diren and Buse together in the same cell is that they were both sentenced based on charges related to the same crime. As one’s existence empowers the other’s, their unknown state casts them both into an endless abyss.

As a 30-year-old who has visited three different prisons forthree incarcerated women, I was aware of the violence I would be subjected to at the entrance to Tekirdağ No. 2. And, on my way, I decided not to complain. Thinking about what Diren went through at the hands of the soldiers and wardens, I tried to get used to the fact that I would be experiencing this violence for three more years. At the end of the day, I was a visitor and I was bound to go through the indignity they imposed on me once a month. My body was relatively freer than Diren’s.

Just like any other prison I saw, Tekirdağ No. 2 is also a structure built to break the human spirit. As I entered through its gate, I reminded myself not to let anything overshadow the joy of seeing Diren and I walked in. Those who have been there would know how it is–open visits are crowded, packed with many relatives, young or old, and children. I gave my passport to the officer, hoping that a passport not color-coded and gender neutral would allow for an insult-free, harassment-free passage.

After registration, I was able to pass through the first checkpoint with other women. Towards the second one, Diren’s brother warned me “Be careful, you won’t be seeing smiling faces after this point”. Not long after, the female warden asked loudly “Did you go through surgery?” in the middle of the crowd. And then she called the first checkpoint where I left my ID and asked what was written on my ID under the gender slot. After she hung up, pulling a wry face she ordered the male wardens: “I won’t search this. Take him to the other side”. Under the silence of tens of gazes the wardens touched every bit of my body from my breast to my hips, continuing their work with the joy of carrying out a patriotic duty.

As these events were happening at the gate, what were Buse and Diren going through?

Diren’s open visit takes place in a separate room. A policy of isolation within isolation. Two wardens hovering above us, listening to every word we utter. We can neither hug nor talk in peace.

As there are no vegan meals, Diren has been feeding on boiled potatoes and tomatoes for months. It is another trouble to get female clothes in. Her requests for bras and similar things have been denied. She talked about the indifference of the doctors at the infirmary. She said that the officers frequently refer to her with the name written on her ID and address her as “Sir”. This “Sir” title has become such a grave violence that she swallowed an entire box of hormone pills at once during past weeks. On the farewell note she wrote, she exposed the systematic violence she has experienced. After her stomach was pumped, she was handcuffed to the radiator at the public hospital in the state she was in. Fortunately, when her objections turned into a scream they brought her back to her cell. Even in this state, she thinks more about Buse than herself. What Buse has been going through for the last twenty years and what she will go through the next seventeen. Her operation has been denied in spite of permission for the surgery and this has made her psychological state deteriorate even more. Buse is planning to use the last weapon she has left, to starve her new body and to lay down to die.

We trans women, who are the decided sinners of society, try to exist through resistance. Our resistance is born out of an affront to humanity. This sin is deemed so great that even the mothers who carried the sinners for nine months stay away from their children.

Towards the end of my visit, Diren said that Buse got ready in the morning and put on makeup. When she asked her what she was getting ready for, Buse answered “You never know, maybe my brother will come”. A brother who was expected and who never arrived for years! Buse’s answer became a thorn in my flesh and invigorated my struggle. This sin which bars relatives from coming to open visit should be society’s cross to bear.

Buse has been trying to exist in incarceration without anyone by her side for twenty years. She thinks she has been forgotten. Fortunately, at the end of 20 years, IHD (Human Rights Association) Co-Chair and attorney Eren Keskin took charge of the entire judicial process and will follow up on the unlawful practices Buse has endured, including the right to operation she was denied. This Thursday, Keskin will go to Tekirdağ No.2 as Buse’s legal representative to clarify her demands for justice. The commission set up for Buse and Diren at İHD will share the rights violations with the public in a press statement released next week.*** The past twenty years of isolation will at least be subdued. Historians writing from their dignified perspectives may perhaps take little note of what’s happening, but this will be a thousand hopes for trans people to come.

As two sinners of Tekirdağ write their histories through resistance, the solitude we left them in will one day find us too. The only way out of the hell of a binary regime is not to participate in its norms but to dismantle the norm. What is imposed with the norm leads to darkness and the resistance of the trans women lead to light.

*Translator’s note: “Coffin” is an unofficial term which denotes isolation cells where many political prisoners stay in F-type prisons. 

**State Security Courts (Devlet Güvenlik Mahkemeleri): Designed after the State Security Courts of De Gaulle era in France, DGMs first originated after the military coup of 1971, equipped with extraordinary authority regarding the cases that “endangered the existence of the state”. Its judges and prosecutors were assigned by military authorities, which is why it was seen as a “martial law without the declaration of martial law”. DGMs were shut down in the mid 1970s, only to be resurrected after the military coup of 1980. They remained active until 2004.

***  İHD held a press conference on January 10, see bianet article for more info.

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,

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.

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,

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,

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.

Trans Inmate Funda’s Letter on Prisons in Turkey

Source: LGBT Hapiste,Trans Mahpus Funda’nin Türkiye Hapishanelerini Anlattığı Mektubu (Trans Inmate Funda’s Letter on Prisons in Turkey), LGBT Hapiste, May 6, 2014,

Funda, a trans prisoner incarcerated for the past ten years, describes her experiences in various prisons. Corresponding with the Civil Society in the Penal System Foundation, Funda testifies about the early years of her sentence and says that she will continue her story in her letters to come.

Some of the abusive practices described in Funda’s letter are:

  • Forced stripping and genitalia searches when entering the prison.
  • Forced haircuts.
  • Not being allowed to wear women’s clothing.

  • Being forced to wear men’s clothing.

  • Being kept in a solitary cell, without a shower or warm water.

Reading about these practices from Funda’s point of view will help with understanding how trans inmates are made to suffer.

Note: Funda ends her letter by saying that their situation is quite difficult and they need any help they can get. Those who want to send letters and/or help to trans prisoners can call 0542 336 75 67 for more information.


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,

“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.”


Trans Inmate on Hunger Strike: “I don’t want to die!”

Source: Yıldız Tar, “Açlık Grevindeki Trans Mahpus: Ölmek istemiyorum!” (“Trans Inmate on Hunger Strike: ‘I don’t want to die!’”), 10 April 2014,

Avşa, a trans inmate on hunger strike for the last 60 days, has told of the sexual assault, violence and isolation she has been put through during her incarceration. “I have been hungry for 60 days and I don’t want to die. Because I was jailed before I had a chance to flourish.”

Avşa, one of the trans inmates in Bafra T-type Prison who went on hunger strike due to various violations of her rights, wrote a letter to Kaos GL, an LGBTI solidarity organization,  about her experiences in prison.

Avşa reports that she has been subjected to systematic sexual harassment and violence, which is why she has been on hunger strike for the last 60 days. She has recently been transferred from Bafra to Kocaeli Prison. She has lived through countless infringements to her rights during this time.

In 2009, Avşa was first subjected to sexual abuse by a correctional officer during her time in Giresun Correctional Facility. She took her experiences to court with sufficient evidence and the assaulting officer got sentenced to imprisonment by the Giresun Criminal Court. Avşa, on the other hand, was relocated to the Tokat Correctional Facility considering lack of safety.