Turkey's prisons are punishing Kurdish prisoners with high translation fees

Shortly after Turkey banned a Kurdish-language play in Istanbul, rights advocates started to talk about how Kurdish prisoners were being charged fees amounting to close to 20 percent of the country’s minimum wage for one page of translations of letters written in their own language.

The Association of Lawyers for Freedom (ÖHD) has been publishing monthly reports on rights violations in prisons. ÖHD’s October report, due in a few days, includes details on the commodification of the Kurdish language, and is rife with violations.

Some prisons simply don’t deliver letters, and don’t send out letters written by prisoners if they include any phrases in Kurdish. In the northwestern Düzce province, the prison administration told inmates that they could receive their letters, if they paid for translations so wardens could oversee them beforehand. Then the price was set at 300 to 400 liras ($38 to $50) per page.

So a 10 page letter in Kurdish can cost prisoners, who often come from low-income households, as much as translating a medium-length novel from English to Turkish under normal pricing would cost. The minimum wage is a little over 2,300 liras ($290) in Turkey.

ÖHD member Ahmet Baran Çelik said it was ridiculous to demand fees easily ten times as expensive as regular translations:

“A translator friend got a 900 lira ($115) royalty payment for a novel. He should have done a few pages of a letter,” Çelik said. “This is absurd. Prisoners are already living in harsh conditions. They already have no money. Imprisonment means destitution. How would they find the money?”

The clear purpose of this practice is to discourage the use of Kurdish, according to Çelik.

Destina Yıldız, co-speaker of the ÖHD’s prisons commission, said creating problems for the use of Kurdish was nothing new. “Normally the prison commission should have somebody for translations, if they want letters translated. They should make the arrangements themselves.”

Inmates are also having trouble accessing hygiene supplies as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread throughout Turkey’s prisons. They can get soap from the prison cafeteria, but nobody has any personal protective equipment. Some who have high fevers were not approved for testing, so they stay among the uninfected.

On Oct. 14, pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu shared the photo of dying ex-police officer Mustafa Kabakçıoğlu, who was arrested following Turkey’s failed coup attempt of July 15, 2016. In the photo, Kabakçıoğlu’s lifeless body can be seen on a plastic chair in the middle of his prison cell, the neck tilted back in an unnatural angle. It later came to light that the man had died in August.

Tek başına ölüm!

Yapayalnız, hasta, bitirilmiş...

Rutubetli, dökük, tek kişilik bir hücrede...

KHKlı eski polis Mustafa Kabakçıoğlu Gümüşhane cezaevinde bu dünyaya böyle veda etti

4 ayı kalmıştı tahliyeye ama o tükenmişti

İhmal doluydu ölümü, hiç duydun mu @abdulhamitgul ? pic.twitter.com/KqU638sWee

— Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu (@gergerliogluof) October 14, 2020

Prison officials said Kabakçıoğlu had been discovered during morning roll calls. The man had been placed in a solitary cell over suspicions of COVID-19, but posthumous testing came back negative. The chief public prosecutor’s office later released a statement saying the former officer had refused to be hospitalised, and that there was no negligence on the part of the prison.  

The ÖHD report also mentions one inmate sentenced to life in prison without parole. The inmate is held in a solitary cell, and two years ago, his television was confiscated. Having protested the loss of his only connection to the outside world since, the inmate is preparing to go on a hunger strike.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.