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Shameful strip searches on Turkish women

It’s a naked shame; somehow difficult to connect; but that is what it is. One would wish the stories weren’t true, but they unfortunately are.

Centuries before the dawn of Islam, contemporary Arabs, whom we brand as ‘pagans’, buried their daughters alive. Today, in the age spiced with high mosque concentrations per square kilometer and five-prayer adherents of Islam, Turkey stands accused of strip searching its daughters, mothers and grandmothers!

In essence, what makes the difference between the two ages? It beats reason that, whether by design or default, one of the like victims (under God’s creation) and a professional (calling in ethical values) stands and testifies against the truth on the ground.

This seems the only way one can discern the courage plucked by ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputy’s statement that strip searches do not exist in Turkey. Responding to strip search and sexual harassment report in prisons, AKP’s Ozlem Zengin declared: “I haven’t met another deputy who terrorizes parliament as much as Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu. I absolutely do not believe strip searches are carried out in Turkey. They don’t exist.”

By this statement, Zengin had opened gates for the flow of overwhelming evidence to the contrary as victims of different ages and professions filed in personal and live experiences via newspaper interviews, social media and websites. In all we have women journalists, lawyers, teachers, housewives and undergraduates held on trumped up terrorism charges, mostly related to the Gulen Movement, telling their story.

One of the first ones to give their account was journalist Ener Kilinc, who was arrested about nine months after the July 15, 2016 attempted coup whose narrative has raised more questions than answers to the present day. She reports of being strip-searched by four guards. “When I asked them if they would all be present during the search they just laughed at me.”

Strip-searched four times, one teacher said: “I cannot remember any other time when I felt more humiliated as a woman and mother. I’m ashamed to even talk about this. But it’s not me who should feel ashamed; it’s those who carry out this practice.

“Strip-search exists, and I’m one of its witnesses. I was strip-searched by two guards in the middle of the night at the Bakirkoy Women’s Closed Prison behind a perforated barrier.  The gendarmes in the room felt ashamed and turned their backs. They made me undress and squat,” 44-year-old housewife said.

Twenty-six –year-old lawyer who was arrested in 2017 said six or seven guards – two of them females—told her to undress and then squat three times upon arrival. “The worst sentence I’ve never heard was when they told me to take off my underwear too. It filled my eyes with tears.”

After being examined by a female guard who touched her upper body “I was then allowed to wear my scarf and a hospital gown over my underwear. Then they scanned my body with an X-ray machine. I’m calling out Ozlem Zengin, who denies the existence of strip-searches. I’m one of the thousands of women who were subjected to that practice.”

In what reads like the Bible’s account of the last judgment, the attorney tells Zengin: “I personally experienced the strip-searches you ignored and denied. I am ashamed to share a faith and profession with you.”

Another lawyer said she was abused by a guard who put her hand under her bra without permission while searching her when she went to see one of her clients. “I’ve had scores of clients tell me about their experiences … since 2016.” Turning to Zengin she says: “It is your job to investigate and stop this ugly practice.”

A pregnant housewife was transferred to hospital to deliver, after which she spent a week in a room with three male gendarmes. I am having trouble even explaining the difficulties I faced at the time. I even breastfed my baby with them present in the room…”

Former teacher said she suffered mental trauma when she was told to undress and squat three times. That day was the hardest …of my life. I had a difficult time even shooting this video. But we are not the ones who should feel ashamed, it is those people who let it happen to us and then say in parliament that strip-searches do not exist in Turkey…”

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Apparently, this dirty practice is older than the orchestrated coup attempt. One architect arrested during the 2013 Gezi Park protests  told Zengin on her tweet account: “ Do you have no shame at all? You insultingly strip searched me at 60 years old for defending a park. Now I have to expose it to prevent other women from experiencing the same thing…”

According to one painter: “There were 52 of us in a ward of the Mardin Prison and we were all strip searched.  Toddlers would be strip searched when they came to visit their mother.  Strip searching toddlers? What do they understand about the exercise? What can they plan that demands the search? Turkish toddlers must be different from their peers across the world to conceptualize anything that deserves to be termed a conspiracy! The whole world holds: “Never conspire with a child.”

According to the Lawyers for Freedom Association (OHD), “it’s clearly illegal to implement such a degrading process in law.”  OHD’s Yusuf Cakas calls “on the parliamentary Human Rights Commission to save our country from this shame …”

All read, what struck me most from the accounts is when a Turkish attorney told Zengn: “I am ashamed to share a faith … with you. The same comment should reach all practitioners in the justice system. And to the government leaders of Turkey, when did they last read the Quran?

When I searched for what the Holy Book says about respect for women, findings cast a big cloud over the hearts or rather consciences of Turkish leaders, many of whom could be five-prayer adherents. What they let go to their daughters, wives, mothers and grandmothers is simply a blasphemy!

Many times in the Hadith, Prophet Muhammad (blessing and peace be upon him) said: “Treat women nicely.” He stresses on treating them “without harshness and violence”. On whose guidance is what is happening to the Turkish women in prisons? Women are ubiquitous in the life of the Prophet. Why not in the life of Turkey leaders of today?

The Quran as the moral compass prescribes: “O mankind! ….  Reverence Allah, through Whom you demand your mutual (rights), and reverence the wombs (that bore you); for Allah ever watches over you. (4:1)

So, to the powers that be in Turkey, beware.  Allah is watching –really watching. And with Him accountability is a must. It has no substitute because it is the basis for reward or punishment.  Turkey owes a lot to its womenfolk.

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FELIX KAIZA
FELIX KAIZA
Felix Kaiza is a Tanzanian journalist with more than 50 years of experience currently working as an independent media consultant. Learned in agriculture, journalism, political science and international relations, his main fields of consultancy, besides the media, are good governance, nature conservation, tourism and investment. He was the first Tanzanian Chief Sub-Editor of an English daily newspaper in 1970, he has been behind the establishment and growth of the national independent media since the early 1990s. He is UNFAO Fellow Journalist since 1975 and has wide experience on regional integration. He worked on the Information Directorate of the original East African Community on whose ashes survive the current one. His ambition is to brand Tanzania in the inbound market with made-in-Tanzania brands, including information, almost all of which is currently foreign brewed.
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