Revealed: Desperate Plight of French-Jewish Gay Man Incarcerated in Turkish Jail, Harassed and Beaten by Jihadi Prisoners
Lawyers for a French Jewish gay man imprisoned in Turkey on drugs charges are making his plight public more than three years after he was sentenced, in the hope of highlighting the antisemitic and homophobic harassment he has suffered from on a daily basis while in prison.
Fabien Azoulay, 43, was sentenced to 16 years and eight months in jail by the Istanbul Criminal Court in Sept. 2017 for “importing a banned narcotic product.” According to his lawyers, Azoulay has been frequently attacked and abused by other prisoners because he is both gay and Jewish.
Azoulay was initially imprisoned in a jail in Maltepe, near the Turkish capital. In a letter sent to a friend in France, he described jihadi prisoners forcing other inmates to participate in Muslim prayers as well as inflicting physical violence and even 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. 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,” Azoulay wrote.
Despite his efforts to hide both his religion and his sexual orientation, Azoulay was badly assaulted by a jihadi inmate in Nov. 2019 who discovered that he was Jewish and gay. While he was sleeping one night, the jihadi poured boiling water over his body, resulting in Azoulay being hospitalized with second-degree burns.
Following the attack, Azoulay was transferred to a different prison in Giresun, about 500 miles from Istanbul, where he remains incarcerated. “He is even more isolated there than he was in Istanbul,” one of Azoulay’s lawyers, Sophie Wiesenfeld, told broadcaster France 24 on Tuesday. “His family can no longer visit him because the area is surrounded by jihadists and it’s dangerous.”
In one recent letter home, Azoulay confided: “I pray and cry every day for a miracle. I can’t imagine staying here for the full 16 years and eight months.”
Azoulay’s letters from jail were “heartbreaking and unbearable,” another of his lawyers, Carole-Olivia Montenot, told news outlet 20minutes. “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.”
Azoulay, who was managing a beauty spa in New York when he was arrested in Turkey, had flown to Istanbul for a hair transplant operation and had only planned to stay in the city for a few days. At his hotel, he logged onto a Lithuania-based website where he purchased a small amount of GBL, a narcotic, for personal use. Azoulay was unaware when he made the order that the Turkish authorities had recently banned the use of GBL — a synthetic drug that enables feelings of euphoria among users and can also act as a sexual stimulant. Turkish customs intercepted the package and tracked its path to Azoulay’s hotel room, where they arrested him.
Azoulay’s lawyers explained that they were now mobilizing public support for their client out of frustration with the lack of progress on the governmental front, with relations between Turkey and France having sunk to a nadir in recent years. “We played the games of justice and diplomacy, but nothing has moved,” Montenot remarked.
There was particular disappointment that efforts to have Azoulay transferred to France launched in the wake of the attack on him in 2019 had come to nothing. More than 80,000 people have now signed an online petition demanding the “transfer of Fabien Azoulay, imprisoned in Turkey, harassed for being French, Jewish and gay.”
A French diplomatic source meanwhile told France 24 that both the foreign ministry and the French Embassy in Ankara were closely following Azoulay’s situation.
“Our consular services are in regular contact with Mr. Azoulay as well as with the Turkish authorities to inquire about his situation and the progress of his request for a transfer to France. In Paris, the services of this ministry are in regular contact with the family and lawyers of our compatriot,” the source said.