The life of Garibe Gezer, a Kurdish political prisoner from Turkey’s southeastern Mardin (Mêrdin), has ended in a shocking and controversial manner. On 9 December, the prison administration called the Gezer family and informed them that their daughter was found dead in her cell in Kandıra Prison, located in Kocaeli, where many politicians, journalists and human rights defenders have been jailed.
The fact that Garibe reportedly took her own life at midday on 9 December, but the family was called during the evening hours, also raised suspicions amongst the public as to why the prison administration waited for hours before informing the Gezer family about Garibe’s death.
“They called me, told me my sister took her own life. I reacted to them, saying I didn’t believe that. I don’t believe my sister took her own life. It must be that they did something to her,” Asya Gezer, Garibe’s sister said in the phone call she made with the prison administration.
“She told me her morale was high after the oppression against her was reduced a bit. I told her I would be able to visit her in January: she got so happy hearing that. She told me she was looking forward to see me,” Asya added, referring to her phone call with Garibe on 16 November during which Garibe sounded cheerful to Asya.
Women from various human and women’s rights organisations including the Initiative of Peace Mothers and Free Women’s Movement (TJA) went to the Forensic Medicine Institute in Kocaeli to collect the body of Garibe.
“Şehid namirin” (a slogan in Kurdish that means “the martyrs are immortal”), the women chanted, as they carried the coffin of Garibe on their shoulders, but the police officers aggressively reacted to them, insulted and yelled at them, “What martyr? No chanting! No yelling!”
It is expected that Garibe’s body will be transferred to her hometown, Mardin, this afternoon.
Turkey’s Human Rights Association (IHD) co-chair and prominent women’s rights lawyer Eren Keskin on 9 December announced the news on Twitter as she initially reacted saying,”Garibe was being punished in a cell. How can a person hang herself in a cell. Shame on you!”
Upon hearing the news, lawyers rushed to Kandıra Prison on the evening of 9 December, but initially they were not allowed in. Only after they exposed Kandıra Prison administration’s attempts to block their “defence of their client,” even after her death, were the lawyers able to enter the prison.
The autopsy of Garibe also took place in suspicious circumstances. The Forensic Medicine Institute authorities conducted the autopsy before Garibe’s lawyers could arrive at the Institute, and the initial autopsy report stated that the cause of death was “unknown.”
“She attempted to take her own life before. Let us say that she was suicidal. But then, what is the role of the prison administration in all of that? Isn’t the state supposed to protect people’s lives in prison?,” Meral Danış Bektaş, a Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) MP asked during a parliamentary speech in Ankara after hearing news of Garibe’s death.
“Everyday, we tell a different story from the prisons here. This incident is, indeed, a murder. Kandıra Prison Administration should be urgently removed from its duty. We demand all those responsible for her death to be detained and the investigation to be launched urgently,” she said.
On 8 October, HDP politicians submitted written questions to the Turkish parliament regarding a series of abuses Gariba had been subjected to. They included physical and sexual violence, periodic imposition of being locked in a padded cell for days on end, and many other practices of pressure by the Kandıra Prison administration and guards. These actions continued for months in a systematic manner.
On 25 January, Jin News reported that Garibe set her cell, in Kayseri Prison where she was then jailed, on fire in order to support the then ongoing hunger strike in prisons that thousands of political inmates were protesting over (relating to human rights violations in prisons and the detention conditions of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party leader Abdullah Öcalan, who has been jailed under strict isolation conditions since 1999, in a prison located on a remote island in Marmara Sea, Turkey).
On 24 May, Garibe was reportedly transferred to Kandıra Prison, Kocaeli, where she had to spend the first 22 days in a solitary-confinement cell for what the prison administrations in Turkey called “disciplinary punishment”.
As understood by its name, this special type of punishment generally follows a rather arbitrary process of disciplinary investigation and is imposed on prisoners on grounds of “misbehaviour” and “undisciplined manners” that generally include political actions of prisoners – such as shouting slogans or any acts of civil disobedience or passive resistance. They are deemed to be grounds for placing a prisoner in a solitary-confinement cell, where they are left all alone for the duration of however long the prison administration wishes to keep them.
Garibe protested against the horrific conditions of the padded cell she was forced in to stay in, which had visible human excrement in it. She had to endure its suffocating smell for weeks as there was no window in the cell for clean air to be let in, Jin News reported.
The guards then reportedly forced her to have a meeting with the prison administration, which she did not wish to attend, by dragging her on the ground and physically assaulting her. This resulted in visible scars on her body.
Garibe told her family that female guards sexually harrased and raped her for hours and the more she resisted, the more vilolent they became and beat her to the point where she lost consciousness.
When a doctor in Kandıra Prison infirmary refused to treat her with respect and treated her in a discriminatory manner, Garibe rejected medical treatment. The authorities of Kandıra Prison then made her sign a paper that read, “I am responsible in any case should I die.”
Following such inhumane treatment, Gariba started a human rights struggle and contacted Turkey’s Human Rights Association (IHD). She also exposed all that she had been subjected to when she spoke to her family members during their weekly phone calls. This was even as the Kandıra Prison administration tried the hamper her protests by confiscating the letters and petitions she was intending to send outside.