Visually impaired ex-civil servant’s letter shows he can barely survive in Turkish jail

A letter by a visually impaired ex-civil servant who wrote to columnist Emin Çölaşan of Turkish daily Sözcü has told the harrowing story that he is having a hard time surviving in prison since penal facilities are not set up for a disabled person.

In his letter sent from a prison in Konya, Mehmet Büyüközkan has revealed the severity of the situation that he has been exposed to since he was diagnosed with visual impairment at the upper limit the year of 2010.

Büyüközkan said prison facilities have not been made easily accessible for a blind person, his cellmates lended him assistance to address his basic needs for daily basis. He emphasized that he even received support for writing the letter. In the attachment to the letter, it is included those medical reports show that he was recognized with Retinis Pigmentosa at the rate of 71 in 2010 by Konya Numune Hospital.

Büyüközkan has said that since he was dismissed as part of the Turkish government’s post-coup purge of public institutions in the aftermath of a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016 his wife with two children abandoned him on the basis of not being employed.

The text of Büyüközkan’s letter to Çölaşan is as follows:

“Dear Mr Çölaşan,

I am congenitally visually impaired. I can not read your writings, but I listen to thanks to my friends. I am currently under arrest in a prison over a claim that I was a clandestine imam of FETÖ (“FETÖ” is a derogatory term coined by ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) under the rule of autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to refer to the Gülen movement.) When I write these lines — actually I can not write, but I dictate to my friends — I am smiling. Because the situation I am facing is tragically comic. How can a person with visual impairment who can not walk, eat and meet need to use of toilet without help can become a director of a terrorist organization?

Retinis Pigmentosa I am diagnosed congenitally is in the last stage. It is a disease that progresses under stress and when psychological problems increase. I am sending you the medical report received in 2010 in the attachment. In addition, there is an ‘disability card’ issued by the government. They took this card when I was imprisoned and they did not give it back.

I have successfully graduate from Anatolian High School, Science High School and the Department of Physics at Bosphorus University, despite the fact that I have congenital blindness. I started to work at Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBITAK) in the list of disabled people and I worked in this institution for about six years. After the July 15 coup attempt I was dispelled with a government decree. No company hired me after I was fired for no reason.

In this process, my wife and my family accused me of being unemployed.  My wife and my children — one girl, one boy aged 2 and 4 respectively, abandoned me. So I lost my job, my wife, my children and my freedom because of FETÖ (accusations). How can I withstand my blind eyes and eyes that I can not see when a normal person can not stand them?

I appealed everywhere, but I do not get any answer, I can not hear my voice. I have no more dying to hold on to now. While sleeping at the nights, I wake up by hitting my head and I burst into tears.

In prison conditions, I can not walk alone, eat anything, nor meet other needs. Does not this treatment, which is happening in the 21st century to a disabled person, have on people’s conscience? How can a visually impaired person can become a director of organization according to statements of a couple of people? How can I escape since I am not able to walk without help? What evidence can I obfuscate with my impaired eyes? Why are they doing this to me when pending trial is possible? Please be vocal and announce this situation to those who have blocked their ears. Stay healthy.”

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. Turkey’s Interior Minister announced on December 12, 2017 that 55,665  people have been arrested. Previously, on December 13, 2017, The Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

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