The family and lawyers of a gay man languishing in a Turkish prison have called for the public’s help in repatriating him to France following horrific, torturous abuses suffered at the hands of fellow inmates. According to a report for France 24, Fabien Azoulay, 43, a French national of Jewish descent, was sentenced to 20 years in prison after he bought a narcotic product online, not knowing it had been banned in Turkey only months before. His trial lasted less than 15 minutes and he has since suffered horrific homophobic assaults behind bars, including a boiling water attack that left him with second degree burns over much of his body. Azoulay’s family and lawyers have launched a petition calling for the public’s help because they say the French government seems little interested in his plight.
“It is terrible,” Carole-Olivia Montenot, a member of Azoulay’s legal team, told France 24. “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.”
“His conditions of detention are an attack on human dignity,” Sophie Wiesenfeld, founder of the think-tank Hexagon Society and president of the Fabien Azoulay Support Committee, said.
Lawyers shared letters written by Azoulay where he described a terrifying existence behind bars.
“One guy had his throat slit by a group of four Syrians,” Azoulay wrote. “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 unsuccessfully tried to hide the fact he was gay from fellow prisoners, fearing physical harm and worse if discovered, but his efforts were in vain and he was brutally attacked in November 2019.
“A fellow prisoner knew he was gay,” Montenot revealed. “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.”
While Azoulay’s lawyers wanted him immediately repatriated to France to serve out the remainder of his sentence in France at the time, the French foreign ministry instead proposed requesting a transfer to another prison. The transfer was granted over objections from the family, and the prison turned out to be even worse for Azoulay and in an area unsafe for visits from family.
"He is even more isolated there than he was in Istanbul,” says Wiesenfeld. “His family can no longer visit him because the area is surrounded by jihadists and it’s dangerous.”
According to Montenot, the entire ordeal was the result of an unwitting mistake and an out-of-date website. She told of how Azoulay had traveled to Turkey in 2017 to get hair implants. While there, he purchased the popular synthetic drug GBL (Gamma-Butyrolactone) online using his credit card after checking the company’s website to make sure it was legal in Turkey. Unfortunately, the website had not yet been updated to reflect a recent ban on the substance as a dangerous narcotic in the country just months before. The product was intercepted en route to Azoulay’s hotel room, where he was arrested a short time later.
Montenot said Azoulay had “a succession of small hearings that each lasted about five minutes” before a final February 2018 “accelerated trial that lasted for about 15 minutes, including all the translations” where he was sentenced to 20 years in prison. A January 2019 appeal was denied, although his sentence was reduced to 16 years and eight months for good behavior.
Azoulay’s family and lawyers are now asking for the public’s help in pressuring the French government to do more to repatriate the French citizen. Wiesenfeld said he is “collateral damage” from a worsening diplomatic relationship between France and Turkey. The developments could not have come at a worse time for Azoulay and his family.
"Fabien has told his family that he will not make it through this, his fourth year in prison, Montenot warned. “He has fallen into a major depression. He is on medication and wants to commit suicide. He fears for his life.”
The family has started a petition to free Azoulay, and have reached well over 100,00 signatures so far.