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(en) Turkey, Media: Mehmet Tarhan's struggle

Date Sun, 06 Nov 2005 13:13:24 +0200

Mehmet Tarhan has been in military jail in Sivas since 8 April
Since 30 September he has been on hunger strike* Mehmet, a gay
conscientious objector in the inferno of Turkish jails On 10
August Mehmet Tarhan, a gay Turkish anarchist activist and total
conscientious objector against all wars and any alternative service
to the military, was sentenced to four years for ârefusing orders
in front of the unitâ. Turkey signed the European Convention
of Human Rights, which recognizes conscientious
objection, but has never passed a domestic law on
conscientious objection or alternative service.

As soon as he arrived, other prisoners, incited
by the guards, beat him up brutally, threatened him
even in front of his lawyer, and forced him to call
his sister, telling her to bring some clothes, shirts
and shoes, which the guards then passed on to his
aggressors. This is when he went on his first hunger
strike - for 28 days - winning a visit by civilian
doctors and a cell of his own to safeguard his

On 9 June the military judge released him, but, since
the military consider him a soldier, they brought him
back to the barracks, where a cycle of detention and
legal proceedings immediately started.

During his trial on 10 August, the prosecutor and
judge insisted that he should accept exemption from
military service on grounds of his homosexuality,
which the military define as a ârottenâ illness.
Mehmet Tarhan refused this âopportunityâ â insisting
that it is not he who is ill, it is the militaristic
system which is rotten. The fact that it is rotten is
illustrated by the type of âevidenceâ demanded by the
military to prove homosexuality. In a practice which
is arbitrary but well-known, military doctors can
insist on a manual anal examination plus on visual
proof such as a photograph (or, even better, his
lawyer told us, a video) of an act of sexual
penetration. The person penetrated is the one defined
as gay, the one penetrating is not. This is the
equivalent of the notorious âvirginity testâ, which
the Turkish police and army have used for decades as a
pretext to perpetrate rape and other sexual violence
against women, in particular Kurdish women.

Mehmet should be eligible to come out of jail at the
end of 2006. He will, however, still be considered a
soldier. So he could immediately be brought back to
the barracks and, if he disobeys orders, tried and
sentenced again. This cycle could repeat itself until
Turkish law considers him too old to serve, possibly
up to the age of 55. Mehmet is now 27.

His lawyer has appealed, but the date of the hearing
is not yet known.

The prison is run like a barracks: Mehmet, who insists
he is a civilian, refuses to accept military
discipline and, as a punishment, is often put into
solitary confinement â locked up in a small cell and
often denied the statutory âair hourâ. He must have
his hair and beard cut â by force if necessary. On 30
September Mehmet Tarhan refused the barber and was
attacked by the guards. Ali DÃler, another prisoner
who came to his aid, was also attacked. In a
telephone call from prison ,the same day, Mr Tarhan

"Today, at 3pm, non-commissioned officer Hilmi Savluk,
accompanied by three or four guards, told me that my
hair had to be cut. Then seven or eight people using
force and torture cut my hair and beard but they could
not cut my moustache. A friend from the ward also
faced a harsh intervention from the guards. Following
this âhair cutâ torture, there is pain in my head, in
both my hands and in my left arm - because they stood
on it - also pain in my left foot, and injuries and
bruises on my arm and legs. I cannot turn my neck
because of pain in both my face and neck. "

The other prisoner, who was wounded on his head, was
visited by civilian doctors. Mehmet was âexaminedâ
only by military doctors who showed up in their
fatigues, hung around for ten minutes and said he was

Since 30 September Mehmet Tarhan has been on hunger
strike. He demands punishment of the guards who
attacked him, a visit by civilian doctors and the
nutritional supplements necessary for his hunger

For Mehmet has some knowledge of medicine. His sister
Emine tells how, between 1995 and 2000, Mehmet was
working as a vet for the Turkish government near
DiyarbakÃr, in Lice, which in 1993 was practically
razed to the ground by the army in an operation
against Kurdish guerrillas . Mehmet was seconded to
work for the military medical commission. After that
experience he resigned his job and declared himself a
conscientious objector.

His case is well known among activists in the various
grassroots movements across the country. He is the
tip of an antimilitaristic iceberg: there are
350,000-500,000 draft refusers, many of whom are Kurds
who refuse to attack their own people in the South
East, who refuse to attack villages, to torture, rape
and kill civilian women, children and men and to fire
into crowds of peaceful demonstrators. Many refuse
because of the harsh military living conditions â
paid a pittance and sent far away from home in a vast
country where the military presence is ubiquitous: in
the cities as well as at the many checkpoints on roads
in the remotest rural areas. The whole society is
controlled, militarised and at war.

The Initiative of Solidarity with Mehmet Tarhan
www.mehmettarhan.com includes a majority of women.
The lawyers who initially took up his case are also
women. Here, as everywhere, women form the back-bone
of the anti-war movement and are the most determined
and effective organizers for justice for their loved
ones. Cindy Sheehan in the US and Rose Gentle in the
UK, both mothers of young soldiers killed in Iraq, are
the most visible examples of this.

Mehmetâs mother, Hatice, in spite of her ill-health
and eviction from her house in Istanbul, never tires
of repeating that she is very proud of her sonâs
stand. The family has now lost two menâs wages, since
Yusuf, Mehmetâs younger brother, has also been

Every two weeks Emine, Mehmetâs sister, embarks on the
tortuous 900-km trip from Istanbul to Sivas (spending
14 hours each way on a bus two nights running) in
order to see Mehmet and bring him news and support
from the movement. She rarely manages to have
physical contact with her brother, who is almost
invisible behind bars and barbed wire even in the
visiting area, where there are always two guards
present. What Emine brings back from her visits
crucially informs the repeated demonstrations in
Turkey and around the world, because Mehmet cannot
write abroad.

Mehmetâs four-year sentence is a signal for the
international movement for lesbian and gay rights and
against the war. Like many lesbian/gay/bisexual
grassroots people, he rejects the âequalityâ advocated
by some in the lesbian and gay movement: to be able to
be recruited and enjoy the âequal rightâ to kill.
Integration into a military which bombs, rapes and
tortures is not a victory anyone should celebrate.

Answering a letter from Caroline Lucas MEP, the
Turkish Embassy in London justified Mehmetâs sentece,
saying: âDespite the fact that ... conscientious
objection is recognized in the Charter of Fundamental
Rights of the European Union, there are EU member
States which still do not recognize it .â Mehmetâs
case is therefore crucial to establish conscientious
objectorsâ rights not just in Turkey but also in
Greece, Finland and Cyprus in the EU, and lesbian and
gay rights in Turkey and everywhere.

The Turkish authorities must know that the world is
watching. Many EU members are hostile to Turkeyâs
entry because of their anti-Muslim racism. Those who
are in favour want to undermine our human rights
further and add a US stooge to the allies that
Berlusconi and Blair already have in Europe. The
campaign in support of Mehmet Tarhan is essential to
maintaining our civil rights in Europe, which are
under threat today from many quarters.

Many anti-militarist, anarchist, womenâs, lesbian and
gay and human rights organisations have supported
Mehmet Tarhan. A day of action on 9 December is being
organized. A number of MEPs have expressed interest
and Vittorio Agnoletto has tabled a parliamentary
question in Strasbourg. Payday and Wages Due Lesbians
are publicising Mehmet Tarhanâs case as widely as we
are able, including by organizing international
protests outside Turkish embassies and consulates in
London, Venice and New York, and on Paydayâs website
www.refusingtokill.net. We urge everyone to put
pressure on their MEPs to intervene with the Turkish
authorities, since his hunger strike has reached a
critical point and Mehmet is likely to be subjected to
more violence by the guards when his hair and beard
next fall due for cutting.

Along with Mehmet, his family and his supporters in
Turkey we are demanding and defending our human
rights: the right to conscientious objection, the
right to refuse to kill, the right to sexual choice,
the right to live in a world free of war and
dictatorship, a world which invests in caring, not

Payday and Wages Due Lesbians insist that all Mehmet
Tarhanâs demands be immediately granted, so that he
can end his hunger strike, and demand that Mehmet and
all conscientious objectors are freed.

*[Ed. Note: Mehmet Tarhan ended the hunger strike he
had started on September 30, on its 34th day, on
November 2, 2005. His lawyers declared that his
demands (including legal action against the
perpetrators, civilian doctor's examination, having
the same rights as all the other prisoners) were
granted. On the other hand Military Court of Appeal,
overruled the 4-year
sentence given to Tarhan. It is expected
that Tarhan will be tried again by the Sivas Military
Court on the charges of "insistent insubordination
before the unit with the intent of evading military
service altogether."]
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