Turkey rules on suicide of Kurdish prisoner accused of torture, rape

Eren Keskin, vice president of the Turkish Human Rights Association and prominent lawyer, tweeted on December 9: “We have just received news of the suicide of our client Garibe Gezer in prison. She survived the torture. Keskin asked how a in solitary confinement could have committed suicide and lamented that the Gezer family of Dargecit, Mardin, had already suffered so much.

Keskin’s grief was powerful over the phone when we spoke on December 15. She explained that Gezer was jailed in 2016 on “specious charges” in connection with the mass arrests of hundreds of Kurds involved in politics. Gezer was not involved in any kind of militant terrorist activity. She was a “strong woman who didn’t want to bow,” Keskin commented.

Most of the charges against her were based on the testimony of a secret witness, Ayse Acar Basaran, spokesperson for the Women’s Assembly of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), told Al-Monitor. the witness, codenamed Burhan, has been missing for five years, but his unverified testimony was enough to send Gezer to a high-security prison for life.

The cause of his death is unclear, as the autopsy was conducted without his lawyer. Even though it was a suicide, Eren and other human rights observers as well as HDP politicians suspect she was on the verge of death by physical and psychological torture.

Gezer was a married woman in her late twenties.

Speaking to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, a former Turkish security guard who had served in various prisons in the predominantly Kurdish southeast of Turkey said Gezer came from a family of “not good Kurds” . The retired guard explained that surnames and associations are crucial for inmates jailed for political reasons.

Gezer’s brother Bilal was one of the 46 people killed during the Kobani protests in October 2014. Hundreds of thousands of Kurds staged protests across Turkey, particularly in the predominantly Kurdish southeast, against the Turkish government’s refusal to take action against the Islamic state as the massacre of the Syrian Kurds loomed.

His other brother, Mehmet Emin, was shot dead by police as he approached a police station to inquire about Bilal’s whereabouts. The shooters were acquitted of all charges.

Mehmet Emin lost the use of his legs after the shooting. Gezer was a district officer for the Party of Democratic Regions and she was accused of working “against the unity of the state”. His sister Asya was also jailed but released after a few months, while their younger brother Hasim, arrested in 2017, remains in prison and was not allowed to attend his sister’s funeral. Out of 11 siblings, nine of them were prosecuted for political crimes, making the Gezers “a bad Kurdish family” in the eyes of the Turkish penal system.

Derya Ren, correspondent for the all-female news agency JinNews, told Al-Monitor, “I have followed Garibe’s case for years and just attended his funeral.” Ren explained that Gezer’s only desire was to be part of a society where women were treated equally. “In five and a half years, it has been remodeled in seven different prisons. She wanted to continue her studies despite all the roadblocks. She wrote tirelessly about rights violations against herself and against others and she wanted their voices to be heard. She wanted the degrading and violent treatment to be known.

Gezer several times reported rapes, torture and other ill-treatment by the guards as well as by the doctors of the prison. In October, his lawyer filed a complaint against prison officials. She later said that Al-Monitor Gezer’s testimony was not even taken after the official complaint.

HDP lawmakers also tabled parliamentary questions in November that went unanswered. HDP lawmaker Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, who is also a doctor, said if Gezer’s voice had been heard, she could be alive today.

The Turkish prison system can be quite confusing. The retired Al-Monitor source revealed: “For Kurdish political prisoners, there are three categories: collaborators, independents and lunatics. The collaborators confess their crimes, accept the guilt, sometimes even become secret witnesses. They are better treated. Wonks are well-known politicians, their helpers and the quietest [who don’t make waves]. The self-employed are the hard-headed and they are called self-employed so that they can be isolated. Garibe begged the guards to be put in a cell with her comrades saying that she was not independent, but that is not possible. We know that women like her can motivate others and cause us problems. “

The self-employed are systematically isolated. One method is a notoriously foam-padded cell, which Basaran says is a very small room – a person barely fits in it – without a window, covered in a horrible-smelling foam meant to prevent inmates from injuring themselves. Solitary confinement can be a prison cell with some basic furniture and fixtures, or a small room without any furniture.

Human rights organizations say long-term solitary confinement is inhumane and harms the mental and physical health of detainees. Gezer has been in solitary confinement for at least 33 days.

As Gezer’s suspicious death was discussed, his body was brought to Mardin where a mayor – a government-appointed administrator who replaced the democratically-elected politician – did not provide a hearse, claiming the body belonged to a “reprehensible” person.

Even the grieving process was controlled by the government. Ren, who was present at the funeral, told Al-Monitor that police would only allow 30 members of his family and friends to attend. They were regularly told not to chant, sing or shout slogans.

Al-Monitor’s Amberin Zaman reported in April 2020 on the state’s efforts to dehumanize Kurdish rebels even after their deaths. Political prisoners are also subjected to this treatment.

The pro-government daily Yeni Akit, meanwhile, reported on Gezer’s death under the headline: “Another terrorist fed in prison is dead. The provocative report was greeted with dozens of comments cheering for his death and calling for more. Most other Turkish newspapers and politicians simply ignored Gezer’s death, his experiences in prison and his struggle to be heard.

Serhat Tutkal, political scientist at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Bogotá, told Al-Monitor: “One of the main reasons for this silence is the dehumanization of the Kurdish people in Turkey. As we know from various cases, dehumanization can legitimize systemic violence against people seen as less than human. Kurds and members of pro-Kurdish political organizations (legal or illegal) have been subject to dehumanization since the early years of the Turkish Republic. Tutkal added: “The Kurds have long been viewed as less than human in Turkey, resulting in the normalization and naturalization of acts of state violence against the Kurdish people, rendering their lives worthless compared to those whose human status is not in dispute. . We have seen similar cases in which the corpses of Kurdish fighters have been mutilated and images of these bodies have been shared on social media platforms such as Twitter. It was a way of showing that the Kurdish bodies were not protected by law or by customs, which means that they should not be treated with respect.

Gezer is a symptom of the rotten system the state has put in place to break the solidarity of the Kurdish political movement. Tutkal explained, “In Turkey, the concept of unjust state violence is relatively new to much of society. This is why all acts of violence committed by state forces can be legitimized with relative ease. This happens with college students, female protesters, or members of any opposition group. Tutkal pointed out what many intellectuals would agree with: that if the state has come for you, there must be a reason. “This is why cases of torture in prison are rarely problematized in the mainstream media, because they concern criminals. “

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