The Turkish military’s treatment of a gay consciencious objector

By Payday, 5 October 2005

Mehmet Tarhan is a gay man from Turkey, total/conscientious objector - he is against all wars and refuses any alternative service to military service in the Turkish draft army.  The Turkish government does not offer the alternative anyway and conscientious objection is not recognized.
After four months in jail, where he suffered torture and abuse by other prisoners incited by the prison authority, Mr Tarhan was sentenced to four years in jail for disobeying orders in front of the unit (Art. 88 of the Military Code) on 10 August 2005. 
The homophobic prosecutor and judges wanted Mr Tarhan to apply for exemption for being gay – in this way the court should not have to acknowledge that there is such a thing as conscientious objection.  The sentence was particular harsh because Mr Tarhan refused to be exempted in those terms: the military’s designation of him as gay means he would be classified as having a “rotten” illness, whereas he says it is the military which is rotten.  Furthermore, in order to certify men as gay the military authority requires not only a physical  & manual examination by doctors but also a video of applicants being sexually penetrated.  The person applying for exemption as a gay man has to be the one penetrated – the one penetrating is not classified as gay by the military.
Mr Tarhan is now in a military prison in Sivas, which is run like a barrack and he is considered a soldier to all effects.  He has to follow a strict military discipline, which he refuses.  As a punishment he is often put in isolation (15-21 days).  When on 30 September he refused to have his hair cut, 7-8 guards attacked him and another prisoner, Ali Dürel, who came in his support.  They were badly hurt and now they are both on hunger strike (see our Action alert for Mr Tarhan’s description of the attack and the hunger strike’s demands).  The hair cut usually happens every two-three weeks, so the attack may be cyclically repeated.
When Mr Tarhan comes out at the end of 2006 (if he gets the standard sentence reduction), he will still be released into an army unit and another vicious cycle could start again.  Having committed no crime, Mr Tarhan could be in prison until he is of military age, 43 or 48 or even, in an emergency, 50 or 55 – he is now 27.
His lawyer submitted an appeal to the Supreme Military Court in Ankara on 19 September.  There is still no date for the hearing.
Mr Tarhan’s case is well known throughout Turkey.  His mother and sister are central to his campaign and, in spite of poverty and ill health, embark in expensive and excruciatingly long bus journeys (14 hours each way travelling at night) to visit him and bring bring him news and support from the movement.
Payday and Wages Due Lesbians have publicised Mr Tarhan’s case, including by organizing international protests outside Turkish Embassies in London, Venice and New York, and on Payday’s website  Giorgio Riva from Payday has just returned from a visit in Turkey, where he met Mr Tarhan’s lawyer, his mother and sister and other campaigners. 
The European Union is negotiating Turkey’s entry in an attempt to use it in order to further undermine our human rights.  Mr Tarhan’s case is crucial to establishing the right to conscientious objection and for lesbian and gay rights in Turkey and everywhere.