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The Band Grup Yorum Continues to Face Oppression in Prison

10 members of Grup Yorum, whose songs have resisted silencing, are at present in prison, while 6 members are sought on the grey list. İdil Kültür Merkezi, where the band rehearse, has been raided a couple of times in the last few months. Grup Yorum is strictly refused permission to perform anywhere and the oppression on the band members continues in prison. Aygül Bilgi, mother of one of the band members, Helin Bölek, relates the experiences of the band in prison…


Grup Yorum were formed by university students in 1985 in Istanbul. Dubbing their music “revolutionary”, they have performed with revolutionary-socialist flair, giving voice to Anatolia and its peoples for 33 years. Labelled as “Snow Machine” by their fans, Group Yorum have attracted the most crowded listeners in stadium and open-air concerts. And they have been targeted by all the governments without a fail; their albums were bulleted by the police, all of their members were arrested and their concerts were banned in the 1990s. Refused live gigs, the band performed online. 10 members of the band are still in jail while 6 members are sought on the grey list with 300 thousand lira prize money offered for each…

Helin Bölek, one member of Grup Yorum, was detained in a sports hall and put into prison on August 8, 2017. She was later transferred from Silivri Prison No 9 to Balıkesir Prison Type L.

Helin Bölek

Bölek, who was released after the hearing on February 15, 2018, was detained once again immediately after her release. Her family, who set out to meet her from Çanakkale, found out about her detention while they were just 20 kilometres away from Balıkesir. On February 23, Helin Bölek was sent to Silivri Prison No 9 following the 8-day detention. Bölek, who had been on trial for the last 16 months, was transferred to Closed Prison for Women in Gebze.

Aygül Bilgi, mother of Helin Bölek, related how the transfer decision was done out of the blue, without giving notice to and allowing the prisoners time to prepare, rushing into cells and battering them. Saying that the prisoners were forced to strip naked during the searches, Bilgi remarked, “When prisoners object to such treatment, they are stripped naked by force. During the entry into Silivri Prison, where Helin and other prisoner were being searched they went as far as examining the hygienic pad of a woman who has having her period.”


Aygül Bilgi drew attention to the fact that letters in which prisoners write about the torture and human rights violations in the prison are confiscated and not posted. Bilgi said:

The letters written by prisoners are not sent, nor can they receive those written to them. The fax messages and letters are mostly censured even if they are submitted. Among those items censured are photographs, printouts of news and opinion columns, lyrics by Grup Yorum, Ruhi Su, Neşet Ertaş and Mahzuni Şerif, musical notes and chords. The members of Grup Yorum are not allowed to receive the lyrics, notes and chords of the songs they have performed on the grounds that they are “damaging.” Likewise the band members in prison are not permitted to send out their compositions and drawings. The books and magazines sent to them are seized with the claim that they are “damaging” or “banned” though there are no confiscation decisions on those items.”


Pointing out that prisoners are deprived of their visits and right to communicate for long periods adding up to years, Bilgi said Helin Bölek has received such suspensions twice within 3 months on grounds that she participated in “halay” (folk dance) and sang songs.

Bilgi remarked that lockdown, which is exercised by isolating prisoners singly or in cells for three in Silivri Prison, gains a much worse dimension by means of denying the prisoners the right to see their relatives and friends. “In addition to this, SEGBIS (Sound and Vision Information Technology System) is forced upon them in hearings. In this way, prisoners are kept within the prison and the principle of directness is violated, as well as the right of defence. SEGBIS means an interference with the defence since the connection can be cut off any time by pressing a button. What is more, there are malfunctions in the system: the sound and vision quality gets very poor, making it impossible to understand what is being said, and of course it is impossible to establish emotional interaction as in the face-to-face communication. It is assumed that when defendants refuse to plead by means of SEGBIS it is believed they have used their right to remain silent,” Bilgin commented.


Adding that prisoners in lockdown are never granted their right to chat with others for 10 hours, Bilgin gave further details: “Prisoners kept in different cells have the right to meet and chat with other inmates of their choice for 10 hours per week; however, in Silivri Prison this right is limited to 3 hours a week only. Silivri Prison attempted to grant this right to my daughter Helin Bölek with people from her own ward, I mean, with people who she sees 24 hours every day.”

Bilgi remarked that when prisoners wanted to show their reaction against problems concerning their right to chat with others by not returning to their wards and staging a sit-in they were dragged by the feet, kicked, hit on the head by the guards. She said that prisoners’ petitions about this problem were not submitted to the Notification Bureau, she added that “the petitions are arbitrarily not put in process, prisoners are imposed new penalties by means of incessant reports and are gradually given communication, visit and cell lockdown penalties.”


Aygül Bilgi noted that she filed a criminal complaint to the Office of Chief Public Prosecutor in Bakırköy when the clothes she brought for her daughter were not admitted, which is a form of discrimination:

At Silivri Prison they do not permit navy blue, green, red and black clothing. Among the clothing I brought for my daughter was a dark grey grizzled pullover with white threads and they did not admit it. Though I persistently tried to explain it was not black, they paid no heed to what I said and carried on with their work by dealing with the next visitor; the mother of a female prisoner arrested in the Adnan Oktar case had brought with her a black dress and it was admitted straightforwardly. ‘Do you treat people differently then?’ I asked. The person in charge looked me in the eye intentionally and said ‘Yes, we treat people differently.’”

Saying that she has filed a criminal complaint against the officer on grounds that he insulted her and abused his authority, Bilgin added “If there are rules in an institution they should be binding for everyone. I wonder what was his purpose when he stared at me and laid emphasis on his words? Was it intimidation? Was it threat? Did this threat and intimidation target my daughter or me? They want to establish oppression by means of this seemingly simple clothing issue.”

Helin Bölek and her mother


Ali Mahir Başarır, CHP’s (Republican People’s Party) Mersin MP, made a statement about the oppression targeting the members of Grup Yorum in prison in the Parliament and demanded that Minister of Justice answer the following questions pertaining to this issue:

-Is it true that members of the band were denied the right to receive the musical notes, lyrics and chords of Grup Yorum on the grounds that they were “damaging”? If so, on what grounds? What are the lyrics and notes that have been found “damaging”?

– Is it true that members of the band were denied the right to receive the musical notes, lyrics and chords of the works by Ruhi Su, Neşet Ertaş and Mahzuni Şerif? If so, what works by Ruhi Su, Neşet Ertaş and Mahzuni Şerif have been found “damaging”? Is there a court decision to this effect on these works in question?

-Who has decided that works by Ruhi Su, Neşet Ertaş, Mahzuni Şerif and Grup Yorum are “damaging”? On what criteria have these works been found “damaging”?

-Is it true that members of Grup Yorum have been prevented from sending their compositions and drawings from the prison? If so, what are the grounds for this?

Translation: Fahri Öz

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