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This is how my cellmate is tortured in Turkey

Updated: Dec 20, 2019

It was 3 o’clock at night. I woke up with the loud knock on my door. I put a kiss on my little son’s cheek and tried to soothe him as I was getting up to open the door. I wasn’t surprised to see the police on my door again. I was expecting them since I left jail yesterday. The only question that was revolving inside my head was how I would help kids to get affected minimum from that situation.

I was alone at home with my three sons, because my husband has been in jail since March 2017. This time I knew I could not call my dad to take care of the kids. My dad trusted the Turkish judiciary much more than his daughter. His thinks that I wouldn’t have been prosecuted if I hadn’t been guilty. I called one of my husband’s friends to come and stay with the kids and left my house after saying goodbye to my sons.

This was my second journey to prison. My first trip to the prison started in 2016. I didn’t know what I had been accused of until they presented the indictment last month. I finally learned my biggest crime: having a messaging app on my smart phone. This was the single most important reason for being jailed and separated from my children for one year. Just like an old Turkish saying I used to hear from my grandmother, the “wolf already decided to eat the lamb”. I know, that was only an excuse for the oppressor.

Finally, a court hearing took place exactly one year after my detention. The court didn’t finalize the decision yet but ruled for my conditional release. I didn’t believe my ears when I heard that they released me. I was always reminding myself that I can go back to jail anytime since I never trusted anything in the judicial system in Turkey under the current state of emergency. Unfortunately, I wasn’t wrong.

I do not feel sorry for myself. I think I am used to being in jail. One year is a long time for this. Besides, I made very good friends in my cell. My biggest regret is being away from my kids. I am sorry for being away from my sons. I am sorry I wasn’t with my eldest son when he took high school entrance test this year. I am sorry for missing the 5th birthday of my little one. I am sorry for not seeing my middle son ride bike for the first time. I am sorry for being the source of unpredictability in their lives for the last 12 months, and as a mom, I feel miserable not being able to solve this situation.

I still cannot believe how I am still calm and how I can handle the situation as if nothing has happened. It seems like, resilience is something that comes naturally even you wouldn’t believe you resist all bad things at the time of calamity. I think everyone in my family is trying hard to keep strong.

We try to avoid showing feelings as much as we can. Because, we know if one of us breaks down and reveals it, all of us will start crying and will never stop. That was the reason I welcomed my sons yesterday as if they were coming from shopping with their cousin, Melek, instead of an 8-hour long bus trip. I tried to store all their heavenly smell, when I was kissing and hugging them at the door.

They were my reasons for being strong. And they joined the game by acting the same normal way as I am treating them. It was a usual dinner, all of us sitting around the table and talking about happy things, except everyone knew daddy’s spot was empty. No one guessed that we won’t be able to spend the night together. Otherwise, we wouldn’t allow Melek to go back to Izmir after dinner.

After I got jailed for the first time, my husband took care of the kids with Melek, one of his nieces. I was lucky because I was put into a prison at least in the city where I Iive. There were other prisoners who were intentionally put into far away prisons from their hometowns. I even heard couples who are put into prisons at exactly opposite ends of the country.

My husband came to visit me with the kids during the first months, but the prison administration was putting more and more pressure on the visitors, as if they are trying to prevent any visitors from us. We decided to limit the visits because we didn’t want the kids to get harassed and intimidated every time. It wasn’t long after my husband was detained and later arrested pending trial. The kids didn’t only lose their moms but also lost their dads. Melek stayed with them at our house until the schools closed, and took them to Izmir for summer vacation afterward.

I know, I am telling my story like a usual one. But you should know that this is the new normal in my country. There is not a single family that is not affected from these purges one way or the other since the coup attempt. I am one of many Turkish women staying in jail separated from their kids for a long time without any indictment and trial date. My family is just another family, whose members are scattered all over the country with reasons such as prosecution and dismissal from the job.

The story of my prison mate Asli

But there is another story that I would rather like to be heard off. It is the story of my prison mate Asli. And telling her story is much more important than telling my story here.

Asli was newly married when she was detained with her husband. They put her in one room and her husband to the next room during questioning. She and her husband were tortured days and nights. They could both hear screams of each other, adding another level of mental torture to their tragic experience.

As soon as Asli was brought into the room, female police officers took off all her clothes and beat her until she was unconscious. She was hearing her husband’s screams from the next room, as she was also screaming from pain. The officers were insulting them loudly at the same time.

The torture didn’t stop there. The male police officers were pounding on the door, demanding to rape her. And female officers inside the room told her that they would let these men rape her if she didn’t confess. Her husband in the next room was begging to make it stop since he heard everything from the adjacent room.

As part of a routine procedure, Asli was taken to a hospital for a health screening. She requested an injury report after the questioning, but the doctor instead prepared a report that she is perfectly healthy. There was no way for her to prove that she was tortured.

Asli was still trembling when she came to our cell. She barely talked about what had happened in that room. In the first years of her marriage, she had such a tragic memory, while other regular couples would have honeymoon stories. She has nowhere to go to defend her rights after she was tortured. This system is sick. The police officer is bought off, the doctor in the hospital is bought off, the prosecutor is bought off… This system is only something like a human grinding machine.

Asli didn’t talk much in the first weeks after she was tortured. We tried our best to support her and cheer her up a little bit. I wonder whether she will be normal again, even if she gets out of jail. I wonder how many other women are treated this way in Turkish jails without any hope of defending themselves.

I am telling Asli’s story because I want her to know she is not alone. I want her to know we should speak up against torture and any kind of abuse. I want her to know that there are still human beings out there who think torture is against humanity. We do not have anywhere to go to defend ourselves; my words are my only weapons in this prison cell. I am passing you a story, a story on how human dignity is belittled. I am asking you to pass this story to others. I am asking help for Asli and for other people in Turkish prisons who are deprived of their basic human rights.

by Zehra Yilmaz

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