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To the Delegation to the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee
24 November 2005


We refer to the Turkey 2005 Progress Report by the European Commission (9 November 2005), which is to brief the European Parliament on the progress made by Turkey on standards of respect for human rights, with a view to its accession to the EU.   


We do not agree with the Report’s generally optimistic view of the situation which seems not to reflect some harsh realities on the ground.  In particular we find it unacceptable that, among the various cases quoted, the Report chose not to mention the case of Mehmet Tarhan, a detainee in the military prison of Sivas since 8 April 2005. 


Mr Tarhan’s case highlights at least three serious violations of the standards recommended by the EU for Turkey’s accession to the Union:


1.     Lack of recognition of conscientious objection (Report, p.109).  In October 2001 Mr Tarhan declared himself a “total” conscientious objector – refusing not only to serve in the military but to perform any alternative service, which in any case Turkey does not provide.  He was sentenced to four years on 10 August for “insubordination in front of the [military] unit” (Art. 88 of Turkish Military Penal Code);

2.     Prevention of torture and ill-treatment (p.22).  Mr Tarhan was violently attacked in prison on at least two occasions:

·       In April 2005, when other prisoners, incited by the guards, humiliated and brutally beat him up, threatening him in front of his lawyer. 

·       On 30 September 2005, when seven or eight guards attacked him to force him to have his hair cut.  This can happen again when his next haircut is due

Mr Tarhan went on hunger strike on two separate occasions (for 28 and 34 days) in protest against his treatment.


3.     Discrimination on grounds of gender, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age and sexual orientation (p.92).  Mr Tarhan is an openly gay man.  The military court put pressure on him to accept exemption from service on grounds of homosexuality, which the military define as a “rotten” illness.  Mr Tarhan refused this “opportunity” – insisting that it is the militaristic system which is rotten. 

The military demands “evidence” to prove homosexuality with a manual anal examination.  This is the equivalent of the notorious “virginity test”, 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.  In addition, military doctors can insist on visual proof such as a photograph or a video of an act of sexual penetration between two men.  By their perverted rapist standards, the man penetrated is the one defined as gay, the one penetrating is not. 


The Report in 2004 recommended that “civilian control over the military needs [is] to be asserted and law enforcement and judicial practice aligned with the spirit of the reforms” (quoted in 2005 Report, p.9).  In a recent message from Turkey, the Initiative of Solidarity with Mehmet Tarhan told us that the Military Appeal Court, flying in the face of the Report’s statement, has ignored the suggestion of the Turkish Attorney General that the four-year sentence was disproportionately high.  Instead, the first Military Court’s decision in this case was quashed on the grounds that Mr Tarhan had had only a “mental” examination, not the “physical” one, and his case is now back with the Sivas military court.  The hearing is fixed for 15 December.


Even if Mr Tarhan were now to submit to the anal examination, there is no guarantee that he would get exemption.  Since he refuses, the four-year sentence could stand and, since the military consider him a soldier, when it ends he could be taken back to the barracks and the cycle of refusal, prosecution and detention could start again – possibly until he is 55 and no longer of military age.  He is now 27.  It is also possible that the anal examination may be forced on him in an act of sexual violation which is tantamount to rape.  Our contention is that Mr Tarhan lives under continuous threat of violence in prison and of sexual assault by military doctors if he goes to hospital, and that this is mental torture


In Turkey there are between 350,000 and 500,000 draft evaders.  Many of them are Kurdish men who refuse to serve in an army that attacks their people in undercover operations (as happened recently in Şemdinli).  In other raids women, children and men are regularly tortured, raped and killed, and villagers threatened and evicted to make way for profitable dam projects.  How many of these refusers are also gay and/or conscientious objectors, not daring to declare themselves for fear of being punished as Mehmet Tarhan is being punished?


Several members of the European Parliament have taken a position on his case.  We refer to:


1.     An open letter signed by 18 MEPs, 25 May, 2005 (http://www.refusingtokill.net/Turkey/MEPSsupport%20Mehmet.htm);

2.     A letter by Caroline Lucas MEP to Olli Rehn, Commissioner responsible for EU enlargement policy, 7 July, 2005, http://www.refusingtokill.net/Turkey/CarolineLucasLetter.htm

3.     A written parliamentary question by Vittorio Agnoletto MEP, 12 July, 2005, also submitted to the Council of Europe (http://www.refusingtokill.net/Turkey/MEPSsupport%20Mehmet.htm);


MEPs have received copies of the many protest letters to the Turkish authorities by people from at least 10 countries around the world.  A number of articles about Mr Tarhan’s case have appeared in the international press, including in a recent major feature in the Italian daily Liberazione (http://www.refusingtokill.net/Turkey/LiberazioneEnglish. htm).  Amnesty International has adopted him as a prisoner of conscience.  Many anti-militarist, anarchist, women’s, lesbian and gay, and other human rights organisations have publicised his case and publicly demonstrated in his support.  An International Day of Action is planned for 9 December.


We want to know where the European Parliament stands on this issue.  Turkey must not obtain accession to the EU as long as it inflicts such persecution. 


We urge the European Parliament to intervene officially with the Turkish authorities demanding:


1.        The recognition by Turkey of conscientious objectors’ rights;


2.               The abolition of the clause in Turkish military medicine which defines homosexuality as an illness1;


3.         The immediate ending of the practice of imposing anal examination on, and demanding visual “evidence” from, men who apply for exemption from military service on the grounds of homosexuality;


4.         An end to the mental and physical torture of Mehmet Tarhan, his immediate release from prison and discharge from the army.



Giorgio Riva, Payday

Anne Neale, Wages Due Lesbians

24 November 2005


1 The Turkish military still uses DSM II (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) dating from 1968, whereas the medical community currently uses DSM IV-2000. According to DSM II homosexuality is a psychosexual disorder and those who have this “pathology” are considered “unfit to serve” in the Turkish Armed Forces (Source: Initiative of Solidarity with Mehmet Tarhan, October 2005).


Wages Due Lesbians is an international multi-racial network campaigning for the economic, legal and human rights of lesbian/bi-sexual women


Payday is an international multi-racial network of men, gay and straight, working with the Global Women’s Strike