ISTANBUL — A new film in Turkey revealing the harsh conditions of Turkey's "F-Type" prisons has caused a stir. The special prisons house many convicted terrorists and political prisoners. Ostensibly created to comply with EU standards, the prisons have become the focus of growing concern.
A scene from the new Turkish film "F-Type." It consists of 10 short movies by some of the country's leading directors about the harsh regime of Turkey's high security F-Type jails. All the films focus on various debilitating aspects of prolonged solitude, says director Huseyin Karabey.
"Inmates are staying the cells 23 hours, they can't contact with any other inmates, they only have one hour of week to meet nine other inmates. Human creatures are social creatures; this punishment destroys the personality of the prisons. If the person (is a) strong person, he finds himself in a big depression; if he is weak, he tries to commit suicide," Karabey said.
Turkey's 13 F-Type prisons are mainly for people convicted of terrorist offenses or political crimes, including conspiracies against the government. Inmates face decades of jail in solitary confinement or sharing a cell with three other prisoners. Prisoners held in such conditions include those awaiting trial. Investigative reporter Nedim Sener was accused of conspiring against the government and detained for 13 months.
"I can describe the place as a concrete grave, he says. A place where people are left to decay. Your eyes get damaged, your sense of taste and touch disappear. Your attention to color fades. They managed to set up a system that kills your soul, he says. You can’t get back to life even after you leave that place," Sener said.
The F-Type prisons replaced jails housing inmates in dormitories. The old style prisons were notorious for being unclean and overcrowded places where bullying was rife. They were strongly criticized by the European Union, which Turkey aspires to join. The new F-Type jails, with their hygienic conditions, have been welcomed by the EU and other international organizations. But Emma Sinclair Webb of the New York-based Human Rights Watch says there remains a lot to be concerned about.
"It's not a question of just changing buildings or changing physical environment. It's the regime of the prison that needs to change, where you have people in prolonged solitary environment, whose mental health deteriorates and who are not receiving proper treatment or evaluation of their mental health," Webb said,
The film "F-Type," with its powerful and often disturbing stories, aims to raise awareness in Europe, where it is being shown. But director Karabey says raising awareness is also needed in Turkey.
"Still Turkish society knows the dormitory style dirty places, (with) everyone staying together; they never had an idea about this new hygienic cells. So in the movie, you see it's clean, it looks like a room. At the end of movie, you understood it's terrible and it's not comparable with the old ones. It's a white torture," Karabey said.
The film’s 10 directors are hoping that "F-Type" will help Turkish human rights groups, which have been pressing for an easing of conditions in solitary confinement. However, the government for now has ruled out any concessions, claiming that other countries, notably the U.S., have similar prison regimes for serious offenders. Observers warn that, with little international pressure and little domestic awareness of prison conditions, reform is unlikely.