Fabien Azoulay, a LGBT+ Jewish Frenchman serving 16 years in a jail in Turkey has been harassed, beaten and burned with boiling water by inmates, his family say.
The jailed 43-year-old, who is gay, has already endured four years in prison for ordering a small amount of the party drug GBL while on a trip to Istanbul. He was unaware the product had been banned in Turkey a few months earlier.
His lawyers are now fighting for him to serve the rest of his sentence in France due to the relentless antisemitic and homophobic abuse he faces from other anti-LGBT+ prisoners.
“His conditions of detention are an attack on human dignity,” said Sophie Wiesenfeld, president of the Fabien Azoulay Support Committee, speaking to France 24.
“It is terrible. 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,” added Carole-Olivia Montenot, one of Fabian Azoulay’s lawyers.
Although Azoulay tried to hide his sexuality from other inmates, they suspect he is gay and regularly threaten him with violence unless he renounces his Jewish faith, his family say.
Montenot confirmed he was the victim of a homophobic attack in November 2019. “A fellow prisoner knew he was gay. In the middle of the night, he threw boiling water all over Fabien’s body, causing second-degree burns. Fabien had to be transferred to hospital,” she said.
In letters to friends and family he describes the shocking conditions in the overcrowded Turkish prison, where “jihadists are trying to radicalise other prisoners”.
“There are so many of us here living in such a small space. To go to the toilet at night, we have to walk on top of people who are sleeping. When they are woken up, they get angry and there are fights,” Azoulay wrote.
The LGBT+ inmate said he’s been routinely subjected to forced prayers and physical violence, and even witnessed a murder.
“One guy had his throat slit by a group of four Syrians. I was sleeping when it happened but the screams of the other prisoners woke me up. The sight of blood everywhere was frightening, worse than a horror movie,” he recalled.
“I later learned that the prisoner who died had made sexual advances on one of the Syrians and that, in the name of Allah, he had to pay with his life because of his homosexuality.”
Fabian Azoulay’s lawyers reported his plight to France’s foreign ministry, which called an emergency meeting. The ministry proposed transferring him to another Turkish prison, but his legal team refused, pushing for repatriation.
Nevertheless, he was transferred to another prison 800km (497 miles) from Istanbul. “He is even more isolated there than he was in Istanbul,” said Wiesenfeld. “His family can no longer visit him because the area is surrounded by jihadists and it’s dangerous.”
Fabian Azoulay’s family have launched a petition calling on French president Emmanuel Macron to intervene and accelerate the repatriation process.
It’s gained over 98,000 signatures in three days, but lawyers’ letters to Macron have so far gone unanswered, according to France 24.
Ali Onaner, Turkey’s ambassador in Paris, told French broadcaster BFM TV on Monday (12 April) that his country had “no objection in principle” to the transfer, but that it could take up to three years. Meanwhile, Fabien Azoulay’s ordeal continues.
“Fabien has told his family that he will not make it through this, his fourth year in prison,” Montenot said. “He has fallen into a major depression. He is on medication and wants to commit suicide. He fears for his life.”
In a letter to family, he writes: “When I look at my sentence and read ‘release: 05/23/2034,’ my heart beats forcefully. I won’t make it till then. I know it. I feel it. I won’t have the strength.”