Turkey: A gay prison “to combat discrimination”

Valentin Berthoux translated by Aino Lehtonen
1 Mars 2015

The Ministry of Justice has launched the construction of a prison reserved to the LGBT next to Izmir, the 3rd biggest city of the country on the west side of Turkey. This somewhat surprising decision is supposed to resolve problems of discrimination directed to gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals in Turkish prisons. All the LGBT arrested and sentenced to prison will be sent to this new establishment.

Photo credit Anaïs Audibert and Simon Druart
Photo credit Anaïs Audibert and Simon Druart
Today, the life of the arrested LGBT in Turkish prisons is an ordeal. These groups are often victims of physical and mental violence, as well as constant harassment by other prisoners and guards. Very often the LGBT end up in containment cells through obtaining a medical statement by a shrink or doctor stating they have a mental or physical illness that does not allow them to be held in the same conditions as the others. 

Judgement of the European Court of Human Rights

In 2012 the European Court of Human Rights judged Turkey guilty of discrimination because of its policy of isolating the LGBT in its prisons. The decision forced the Ministry of Justice to give serious attention to the problem. The thing is, the solution chosen by the country is quite extraordinary: Turkey has decided to build a special prison reserved exclusively to the LGBT. “They argue this allows them to better protect the arrested LGBT”. At the moment these groups are complaining they cannot use all prison services because they are separated from the others for security reasons”, told a volunteer of the newspaper LGBTI News Turkey. As soon as the prison is ready, it will receive all imprisoned gay people, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals on the Turkish territory. 

The “pink prison”

The government’s decision has provoked a lot of critics from associations defending the rights of homosexuals. They argue this is a discriminatory policy that can only postpone the problem. They declare to be against a legal separation of the LGBT that contains the risk of further legalisation and institutionalization of discrimination. “This reveals that the government is unable to go directly to the source of all discriminatory problems in Turkey. It is more complicated to do something about homophobia and transphobia in the entire society than to build a prison”, explained the volunteer of LGBTI News Turkey under the name of Zeynep. 

What is more, these associations underline various problems linked with the incarcerations to come. For example, the sexual orientation of the people sent to Izmir will become public knowledge. At the moment many homosexuals prefer to keep their orientation a secret because the society is still very homophobic. This forced coming-out brings up the question of reintegration after a sentence served in Izmir. It will indeed be more difficult for these people to find a job and integrate into the social and family life. The prison also causes practical problems: the people close to the prisoners would have to go as far as Izmir to meet them. The LGBT would no more have the benefit to stay in the prison of their region. 

Turkey: bad prison conditions and widespread homophobia

In the background, the construction of the “pink prison” brings up a more general question about prison conditions and the widespread homophobia in Turkey. In reality, the phobia is not own to detention facilities – it exists on every level of the society. But in prisons the problem is accentuated by poor material conditions and lack of guard training considering the LGBT. 

Nevertheless, Turkey does not seem to care about these news. The decision to build the Izmir prison has got very little attention in Turkish media. The discussion has been limited to certain civil society groups in the opposition media. “Comments have been limited to LGBT groups and groups that defend their rights in judicial institutions. The media that is not pro-governmental has given very little attention to this. We (the associations, ED) are trying to highlight the issue”. 

It would be a good idea to increase awareness about the LGBT and the fight against discrimination amongst the Turkish population in general. Even though the development is slow, there have been positive results on this account. The volunteer of LGBTI News Turkey assures that “even though the discrimination and murders linked with sexual orientation and gender identity still exist, things are moving to a better direction in some aspects. Court decisions are more often rendered in favour of the LGBT and there is more and more talk with politicians and municipalities”. This shows that the future of the LGBT population in the 20th-century Turkey is not without hope.