What happened to Garibe Gezer?
A Kurdish woman political prisoner was found dead after speaking out about torture and sexual assault in custody. Now the Turkish government is blocking an investigation.
Garibe Gezer was a district official for the Democratic Regions Party (DBP) in Dargeçit, Mardin. In 2014, her brother Bilal Gezer was killed while protesting the Turkish government’s refusal to fight ISIS in Syria. Her other brother, Mehmet Emin Gezer, was shot and paralyzed when he went to the Dargeçit police station to ask if they knew who was responsible for Bilal’s murder. The police officers who shot him were recently acquitted.
Like thousands of other members, supporters, and officials of pro-Kurdish political parties in Turkey, Garibe Gezer had been imprisoned since 2016 on spurious “terrorism” charges.
In October, human rights lawyer Eren Keskin filed a detailed complaint against the prison’s staff on behalf of Gezer. The complaint included serious allegations of torture and sexual violence over a period of weeks.
Gezer said that she was held in solitary confinement, including in a highly restrictive “padded cell,” repeatedly beaten, strip-searched and sexually assaulted by guards. After a suicide attempt, she was left alone in her cell without treatment for hours before prison doctors investigated. She was then subjected to censorship and disciplinary action when she tried to inform her family about the torture.
In November, 22 MPs from the Peoples’ Democratic Party filed a set of parliamentary questions about Gezer’s case. They asked Turkey’s Minister of Justice the following:
1. Is the violence against Garibe Gezer, including sexual assault, within the knowledge of your Ministry?
2. What is the reason for the rejection of Garibe Gezer’s request to be transferred to a three-person cell?
3. Is there an investigation initiated against the prison personnel who used violence against Garibe Gezer? If yes, against how many people have these investigations been opened, with which accusations? If not, why is there no investigation yet?
4. Why does the Prosecutor’s Office not take action regarding the statements of violence in the Penitentiary Institution?
5. Is it true that the health workers working in the Penitentiary Institution treated Gezer badly, and that she did not receive treatment during the infirmary? Has an investigation been initiated against the employees on duty?
6. Is it true that some of Garibe Gezer’s letters were not sent and some were censored?
7. What is the legal basis for Garibe Gezer’s solitary sentence, imposed after she told her family about her experiences, and for the initiation of a disciplinary investigation?
8. Considering the severe violence and the traumatic process that Garibe Gezer has experienced, will steps be taken to ensure that she can move to a three-person cell?
9. On what legal basis are the rooms called “sponge rooms” [padded cells] used as a punishment method? In which prisons in Turkey do they exist, and how many of these “sponge rooms” are there in total?
10. Do strip-searches, and sexual assault as a result, continue to be practiced in prisons? Will steps be taken to terminate this practice?
The inquiry was never answered.
On Thursday, December 9th, Eren Keskin announced on Twitter that Gezer had lost her life, and that the legal team was going to the prison to investigate. Prison officials claimed that Gezer had committed suicide.
Gezer’s lawyers were blocked from attending the autopsy. The preliminary autopsy report with which they were provided then failed to include a cause of death.
Mesopotamia Agency later reported that the emergency button in Gezer’s cell had been disabled, and that prison officials were not aware that she was dead until other prisoners in nearby cells called out to her, did not hear a response, and called for help.
Gezer’s tragic case is far from an isolated incident. Torture, sexual assault, and politically-motivated mistreatment of Kurdish politicians and activists are systemic practices in Turkey today.
A 2021 report from the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey found that 90% of torture victims in the country were detained because of their political opinions or activities, and that 40% of torture victims reported being subjected to sexual violence.
On December 3rd, a former Turkish soldier who abducted and repeatedly raped a Kurdish teenager, ultimately driving her to suicide, received a reduced prison sentence for “good conduct.” And on December 4th, lawyers for jailed Kurdish human rights lawyer and former MP Aysel Tugluk stated that she was being kept in prison despite failing health—including memory loss so severe that it impedes her ability to complete simple tasks and meet her basic needs on her own.