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Fashion Designer Şansal, jailed for a tweet, vows to become rights activist

By Mike Kenson

Barbaros Şansal, the Turkish fashion designer jailed on 3 January for sharing an inflammatory message on social media on New Year’s Eve, will be detained until his trial in March, according to a new court decision in Turkey. Şansal tweeted a video clip expressing outrage at Turks celebrating the new year while their country suffers the turmoil of a series of massive purges and is on the verge of handing vast executive powers to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The tweet, particularly provocative on account of Şansal’s final message that Turkey could “drown in its shit”, resulted in the designer’s deportation from North Cyprus, his country of residence. He was greeted on the tarmac of Istanbul Ataturk Airport with an assault from a lynch mob, which the police allowed to take place and filmed, according to Sansal.

The fashion designer, also known in Turkey for his work as a newspaper columnist and LGBTQ activist, has been charged with inciting public hatred, which carries a maximum sentence of three years. A previous indictment against the designer by the same prosecutor was rejected on 6 February, but with the court’s acceptance of the current indictment the trial is now set for 16 March this year.

The decision will see Şansal, who informed visitors from the opposition party the CHP that he has been subject to intimidation in prison, kept behind bars at least until the end of his trial. The Turkish OdaTV news site notes that, while Sansal is to be kept imprisoned until his trial for a tweet, the attacker who burnt opposition activist and actor Mujdat Gezer’s arts centre in Istanbul was released shortly after his arrest.

Şansal is being held at the high security Silivri prison near Istanbul, Turkey’s most modern correctional facility which famously hosted the inmates for the Ergenekon trials. According to the Sansal’s statement to the CHP delegation, he has been placed in the cell next to the killer of Ozdemir Sabanci, the Turkish businessman murdered in 1996 by members of the leftist militant DHKP-C group. Sansal, who has worked as the tailor for another member of the Sabanci family, suggests that this decision was no accident and constitutes an intentional injustice from the authorities.

The fashion designer also told his visitors that he had been subject to sustained and intense harassment and threats during the first days of his imprisonment, that he had not been allowed to receive mail, and that prison canteen allowance was insufficient, joking that the prison authorities had “put him on a diet.”

In spite of his insecure situation, Şansal used the CHP visit to send a message to the Turkish public that will be unwelcome to the Turkish government, mocking the “Yes” vote in the upcoming presidential system referendum. Sansal has stated that he is working on a book about his current situation, and will set aside his career in fashion to work as a human rights activist.

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