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French Jewish gay man harassed in Turkish prison, family says

Fabien Azoulay, who is serving 16 years for buying drugs online, threatened with violence; 92,000 sign petition calling for Macron to intervene

Fabien Azoulay, a French Jewish gay man serving prison sentence in Turkey for drug offenses. (Courtesy of the Azoulay family via JTA)
Fabien Azoulay, a French Jewish gay man serving prison sentence in Turkey for drug offenses. (Courtesy of the Azoulay family via JTA)

JTA — A French Jewish gay man serving a 16-year prison sentence in Turkey for buying a small amount of drugs is being harassed and intimidated in jail, his family has said.

Inmates have regularly threatened to hurt Fabien Azoulay, 43, unless he converts to Islam and over their suspicions that he is gay, according to a petition published earlier this week by his family and friends. About 92,000 people have signed the petition, which calls on French President Emmanuel Macron to intervene.

The petition raised awareness in France and in the French media for Azoulay’s case.

On Tuesday, Turkey’s ambassador to France told the C8 channel television that Azoulay had been moved to a new prison with better conditions and less contact with other inmates.

“The problem was that he had a fellow inmate who behaved violently toward him,” Onaner said.

He said he did not know whether Azoulay was being targeted because of his Jewish identity or sexual orientation. Onaner added that high-level diplomats from both France and Turkey are in contact about Azoulay’s case.

On Tuesday, the City Council of Paris passed a resolution calling on Turkey to release Azoulay, who has been in prison since 2017. The resolution called the sentence “excessive.”

Azoulay, who came to Istanbul to get hair implants, went online to order a substance called GBL — a party drug popular in French nightclubs. GBL was legal in Turkey until being outlawed six months before Azoulay bought it online using his credit card.

Lawyers for Azoulay, who has no criminal record, said he was arrested and sentenced for buying GBL for personal consumption. But Onaner said the order was “substantial” and the punishment corresponded to what the court deemed a commercial quantity.

Prior to his move to a new prison this year, Azoulay lived with three inmates in his room and had no ability to stay fit, he wrote a friend in a letter from June 2020.

“When I look at my sentence and read ‘release: 05/23/2034,’ my heart beats forcefully,” he wrote. “I won’t make it till then. I know it. I feel it. I won’t have the strength.”

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