Gay man jailed during trip to Turkey and tortured by homophobic inmates wins release

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Fabien Azoulay, a French Jewish gay man harassed, beaten and burned with boiling water in a Turkish jail by homophobic inmates, has been released.

Fabien Azoulay, 43, was jailed four years ago by the authorities for ordering a small amount of GBL while on a visit to Istanbul, unaware that the narcotic had been banned months earlier.

But after enduring years of abuse in prison, touching off international outrage among human rights groups and top French officials, Azoulay was transferred to France on Tuesday (17 August).

His attorney, Carole-Olivia Montenot, thanked French president Emmanuel Macron for intervening in the case.

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“I was able to talk to Fabien Azoulay, he is happy to be in France,” she tweeted, hailing “the outcome of a long battle in which the mobilisation of public opinion has been decisive”.

Clément Beaune, the French secretary of state for European affairs, amplified this, tweeting: “This is wonderful news, a great relief, the result of a collective and just mobilisation.”

The Turkish authorities transferred Azoulay to serve the remainder of his sentence in a French prison, but it is understood French police have no intention of detaining him and his lawyers are making the case to release him, the algemeiner reported.

A petition addressed to Macron had gathered more than 120,000 signatures demanding Azoulay’s release. The president later raised the issue to his Turkish counterpart Recep Erdoğan at the Nato summit in June, stressing that the “conditions for a rapid transfer are fast approaching”.

What happened to Fabien Azoulay?

All Fabien Azoulay did was go to Istanbul for hair implants. During his stop-off, he was arrested for purchasing two litres of GBL online.

His lawyers said Azoulay had no idea the drug was banned in the country and had been given the drug “in good faith”, rfi reported.

Azoulay was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for “importing drugs” – the sentence was later reduced to 16 years and eight months on appeal.

While in jail, however, Azoulay faced off against his inmates. Suspecting he was gay, they would threaten him with brutality unless he renounced his Jewish faith.

“His conditions of detention are an attack on human dignity,” Sophie Wiesenfeld, president of the Fabien Azoulay Support Committee, told France 24.

French president Emmanuel Macron had backed transferring Fabien Azoulay. (ERIC GAILLARD/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
French president Emmanuel Macron had backed transferring Fabien Azoulay. (ERIC GAILLARD/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

“It is terrible,” Montenot added. “He is being intimidated, his fellow inmates are telling him to convert to Islam and to pray five times a day.

“He is also being harassed because of his sexual orientation.”

In one incident in November 2019, a fellow prisoner threw boiling water all over Azoulay, causing second-degree burns.

“I pray and cry every day for a miracle to happen. I can’t see myself staying here for 16 years and eight months,” Azoulay wrote in a letter sent to his family from Giresun prison in northeastern Turkey.

“There are so many of us. At night, to go to the toilet, we have to trample on those who are sleeping.

“When they are woken up, they throw fits and only know how to respond with violence.”

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