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Interview with Sandra Bakutz (political prisoner in Turkey from February 10 to March 30, 2005)

Appeared in: ArbeiterInnenstandpunkt (Workers’ Standpoint) 138. Translated by RCN.

As we learned just now, Sandra Bakutz was acquitted today (June 1, 2005) by a Turkish court! Like many, we are pleased about it and see it as a confirmation that international solidarity campaigning is both right and necessary. Here we publish an interview with her that we conducted after her release and which was printed in the May issue of our newspaper ArbeiterInnenstandpunkt.

Sandra Bakutz flew on February 10 this year as an international observer to attend a mass trial which began on April 1, 2004 with an operation against legal and democratic associations and their members. Then, democratic institutions, human rights activists, lawyers and artists were called terrorists in the course of their trials and kept under arrest. Again and again lawyers, human rights activists and also journalists had taken part in negotiations - like Sandra.

Immediately on arriving in Istanbul, she was detained. At a hearing the next day she was told she was accused of illegal membership in the DHKP-C (Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front).

What happened then?

Sandra: I knew only that I had been detained and then I was brought to a women's prison, in which there were no political prisoners but purely social ones (murder, theft). The prison I was first taken to was in Istanbul. The torment started right away in prison. Isolation from others was not so severe as in other prisons, nevertheless the conditions in which prisoners are received into the prison by the gendarmerie were known to me and I experienced them personally. My fingerprints were taken several times, I was photographed, my ID was photographed and I was constantly questioned as to what I was doing here and why I was so interested in Turkey, because they knew what I was accused of.

They rejected your jacket because it was coloured green. Why?

Sandra: Green is a military colour to the authorities in Turkey and because it resembled the colour of Turkish military uniforms, nobody else can wear it. In some prisons, the colour red is not acceptable at all. It is Communist and rejected for that reason. If you have coloured pens when you arrive, red is picked out because prisoners may not write in red ink. Coloured blank writing paper sent in so prisoners can use it is simply taken away from prisoners.

What were your experiences in this prison?

Sandra: It was not a pleasant time for me. It was very difficult to talk to the other prisoners. Not because of language but for human reasons, discussion was not very simple. After five days I was taken to Gebze Prison. My two applications objecting to imprisonment were rejected on the grounds that I might escape.

On arriving in this prison the same thing happened - body searches and other harassment. Again I rejected it. On the grounds that I was already searched in the other prison and was transported while in handcuffs, so it was not necessary to take such strict precautionary measures. I was constantly accompanied by soldiers and in the other prison I was constantly checked, and they didn’t accept it.

What kind of prison was Gebze?

Sandra: In this prison there were political prisoners. There were three cells in the corridor with political women inmates. I was put in one of them.

Were you put in an isolation cell?

Sandra: Previously I was afraid I might be put in a cell alone - simply because I am a foreign woman. However, for two weeks I was put in with nine other women also accused of membership in a terrorist organisation.

The mentality was one of collectivism and everything was shared, and my fellow prisoners gave me things that had been taken from me. Clothes, food and so on were shared.

What harassment did you experience during your imprisonment?

Sandra: It is the rule that you can see a lawyer once a week and in my case someone from the (Austrian) Consulate General, who has to make an application to do so. That means there was no possibility of seeing close relatives whom one would want to see under these conditions. My parents were thus unable to come so all I could see were lawyers, consulate staff and the people in my cell.

Did you spend the entire time in this prison?

Sandra: At the last visit from the consular staff member I learned that I was to be transferred. My two applications for release had been rejected. Under the heading, danger of flight and above all, danger of obscuring (German: Verdunkelungsgefahr).

What does danger of obscuring mean here? In 2001, I was accused of having protested against the then Turkish foreign minister in the European Parliament and of hving been present when a banner was opened. The Turkish newspaper articles which were presented showed neither my name nor my photo. What was there for me to obscure? Because my trial was due to take place in Ankara and I was not released beforehand, I had to be transferred to Ankara. Five or six armed soldiers guarded me during the journey. I was on my own during the transfer to Ankara and the whole time I wondered what would happen. Whether I would really be sent to prison in Ankara or whether something else would happen. One always feels this way when one is on a journey alone, guarded by soldiers.

How were you received in Ankara?

Sandra: The first thing was of course taking off shoes and putting on the house shoes they had there. When I refused, four or five warders grabbed me and the shoes were put on by force. What also happened was that I ws pushed down on a bench where there were objects used for examinations. I tried to defend myself against these warders but my shoes were removed by force.

What kind of harassment happened to indigenous political prisoners?

Sandra: There was arbitrary behaviour towards political prisoners. They have no chance of receiving medical treatment if they insist on preserving their dignity. If prisoners are brought to hospital - closely guarded by soldiers, of course - they are filmed by cameras. Soldiers stay in the doctor's examination room. Prisoners - male or female - can simply undress behind a curtain and let themselves be examined. All political prisoners resist that because it is inhumane. You end up having to choose between your human dignity and your health. State-appointed doctors do not intervene. No reports are made of mistreatment, when prisoners are beaten. Everything depends on the prison administration. That means, letters can only be sent or received on certain days. The food was fairly poor and it was always the same - few vitamins. Once a week prisoners bought an orange or an apple. You had to buy milk if you wanted it. Yoghurt was only rarely available, so the food was not very healthy. With the new laws things will get even worse.

Why exactly?

Sandra: Where prisoners go on hunger strike, it is laid down in the new laws that hunger striking means a disciplinary punishment. That means either solitary confinement, where nobody hears from you, where you will simply be dragged out of the cell and perhaps also receive a two-month ban on letters. Neither receiving nor sending letters. With these new laws isolation is made yet more severe. Prisoners have no safety or guarantee for their lives under these conditions.

What have other prisoners reported about harassment?

Sandra: A prisoner in an F-Type (high security isolation prison - the editor), sent me a letter - I received a lot of letters from other prisoners - he didn't want to remove his shoes so he was taken to court and badly beaten by five or six officials and knocked to the ground. He had traces of his ill-treatment and wanted to report that to a doctor. They did their best to prevent that, put him in an isolation cell and told him the doctor was not there. After a rather long protest he came to a doctor and his statement was to be prevented by means of threats. All this is a part of isolation imprisonment and many people have been driven to suicide by the psychological repression.

I shared a cell with some who experienced the December 19-22, 2000 massacre. At that time, when hundreds of political prisoners protested against transfers to the F-Type prisons, 28 prisoners were murdered. The prisoners were forcibly put in F-Types, the women in other prisons at first, the men directly into F-Types. During this process women prisoners were burnt alive. A trial was later started but simultaneously one was begun against prisoners for allegedly trying to defend themselves.

What future do you see for yourself after these experiences?

Sandra: The next trial will start on May 16. People have no protection through public opinion because the public are scarcely informed of these events. I must stress again that this is a trial where people from democratic left institutions and culture centres are arrested in the middle of the night, on the pretext that floppy discs were confiscated that had their name on them. Some people have been under arrest for a year and a half and also are in these cells.

In the future, even more human rights observers must go to Turkey, to observe this case and similar ones. Only through political work among the public, demonstrations and strikes can we show solidarity with prisoners and force their release, or at the very least, bring about improvement in their conditions. The struggle must go on!