Dafne McPherson Veloz and Leyla Güven ask, “When will we know freedom?”

Leyla Güven leaves prison

On Friday, January 25, 55-year-old Leyla Güven walked out of Diyarbakır Prison, in southeastern Turkey. Leyla Güven had been on hunger strike for 79 days and was in poor health when she was released. Leyla Güven had been in prison since January 2018. On Thursday, January 24, 29-year-old Dafne McPherson Veloz walked out of prison in San Juan del Río, in Querétaro in north central Mexico. Dafne McPherson Veloz had spent three years and four months in prison of a 16-year sentence. News media report Leyla Güven as “released” from prison, as “freed”. News media report also describe Dafne McPherson Veloz as “freed” and “released.” Leyla Güven still faces trial and a possible sentence of 100 years. Upon leaving prison, Dafne McPherson Veloz said, “They stole those years from me, but I made myself stronger and harder.” What is freedom in this world, this world where women are routinely falsely accused and held? When the age of mass and hyper incarceration is over, will we have any means of recognizing freedom? Will we know freedom?

In 2015, Dafne McPherson Veloz worked in department store. She was the mother of a three-year-old child. One day, Dafne McPherson Veloz felt abdominal pains. They grew severe. She went to the restroom. The pains persisted. Finally, to her great surprise, Dafne McPherson Veloz gave birth to a child, who subsequently died of asphyxiation. Dafne McPherson Veloz went into shock and fainted in the bathroom. Immediately afterwards, she was charged with and convicted of homicide and sentenced to 16 years in prison. Dafne McPherson Veloz spent over three years behind bars, all the time maintaining her innocence. Doctors say she suffered from hypothyroidism, the symptoms of which masked the pregnancy. Although Dafne McPherson Veloz went to the doctors, none mentioned that she was or might be pregnant. Dafne McPherson Veloz and her attorneys have argued consistently that her trial was improper, both because of inadequate evidence and because the judge relied on “stereotypes” of how a woman, a “good mother”, should live. In other words, Dafne McPherson Veloz “should have known” she was pregnant and so she was found guilty of murder.

Prior to her arrest, Dafne McPherson Veloz was not well known. Leyla Güven, on the other hand, is a prominent Kurdish activist, an elected official who has been detained before. Leyla Güven is an MP for the People’s Democratic Party, a pro-Kurdish party; and is a Co-Chair for the Democratic Society Congress. According to a recent statement by Angela Davis, “Leyla Güven … has been on an indefinite hunger strike for the last two months. Having dedicated her political efforts over the years to the struggle against the Turkish state’s illegal military invasions and occupations of Kurdish regions and against Turkey’s continuing human rights abuses, she now offers her life in protest of the isolation of Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, and other Kurdish political prisoners. Ms. Guven is a major inspiration to people throughout the world who believe in peace, justice and liberation. I join all those who support her and stand in condemnation of the repressive conditions of Mr. Ocalan’s imprisonment.” Leyla Güven faces more than 100 years in prison for the crime of having criticized Turkish military operations in the predominantly Kurdish town of Afrin in northern Syria. 

We could name other women prisoners in Turkey and Mexico, and pretty much everywhere else in the world. Mexico has its particularities as does Turkey, and so the disturbing aspect here is that of the mirroring. When Dafne McPherson Veloz walked out of prison, she said the prosecutors “didn’t investigate… They didn’t do a thing … That’s why there are people inside who shouldn’t be in prison.” She added, “The only thing I can say to other women who are in my situation is never lose hope.”

Where women’s life time is stolen, what is freedom? Where women continue to be threatened, what is freedom? Where women must live with the trauma and memory of having been caged, what is freedom? Where prisons become hellholes that house 85-year-old women and two-year-old girls, and everyone in between, what is freedom? It’s time, it’s way past time, to investigate freedom itself, to do something, to pull not only the innocent but the scarred out of prison. It’s time once again to never lose hope. It’s the only thing I can say.

Dafne McPherson Veloz minutes after being told she will leave prison

(Photo Credit 1: Bianet) (Photo Credit 2: El Pais)

Between Amal Fathy and Dafne McPherson Veloz, we see our terrestrial globe multiplied endlessly

Dafne McPherson Veloz

“I saw in a closet in Alkmaar a terrestrial globe between two mirrors that multiplied it endlessly.” (Jorge Luis Borges, “The Aleph”)

This year, the Mediterranean, the graveyard of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, the graveyard built by so-called democratic nation-States, spread across the entire globe, from the borderlands of the United States to the killing fields of the Occupied Palestinian Territories to the factories of India to the primary schools of South Africa to the garbage dumps of Mozambique to the houses where domestic workers live and work, in Saudi ArabiaMalaysia and beyond. It’s not only that the world proliferated in toxic and lethal sites for more and more women, children, and men, but also that the capacity for concern and active caring declined. States of abandonment yearn to produce a globe of abandonment. The glue that holds that dreamt globe together is confinement: prisons, jails, immigrant detention centers, juvenile detention centers, accompanied by an increased use and greater proliferation of solitary confinement. Additionally, there are seclusion rooms, in schools and hospitals. This is our terrestrial globe, and, at the end of this year, it spins between two mirrors: Amal Fathy, in Egypt, and Dafne McPherson Veloz, in Mexico.

Amal Fathy is a widely known women’s rights defender in Egypt. On May 9, Amal Fathy posted a video on Facebook in which she described an incident of sexual harassment and criticized the government for refusing to address sexual harassment of women. Amal Fathy, her husband and their three-year-old child were taken into police custody. Her husband and child were released. Amal Fathy was held. The next day she was transferred to Qanater Women’s Prison. Since then Amal Fathy has been in so-called preventive detention. Her health has deteriorated. Four months after her initial arrest, Amal Fathy was convicted of “spreading fake news that harms national security.” She was also charged with membership in a terrorist organization. Fathy appealed the decision, was told that if she posted bail she could leave prison, posted bail, and then was told she could not leave prison because she was being charged as well as a terrorist. Amal Fathy was sentenced to two years in prison. Last Thursday, Amal Fathy was released on probation. Yesterday, Sunday, the appeals court approved the two-year prison sentence, and so Amal Fathy faces returning to prison.

Dafne McPherson Veloz was not a well-known person. In 2015, she worked in department store. She was the mother of a three-year-old child. One day, Dafne McPherson Veloz felt abdominal pains. They grew severe. She went to the restroom. The pains persisted. Finally, to her great surprise, Dafne McPherson Veloz gave birth to a child, who subsequently died of asphyxiation. Dafne McPherson Veloz went into shock and fainted in the bathroom. Immediately afterwards, she was charged with homicide. Dafne McPherson Veloz was convicted of that crime and sentenced to 16 years in prison. Dafne McPherson Veloz has spent three years behind bars. From the outset, she maintained her innocence. Doctors say she suffered from hypothyroidism, the symptoms of which masked the pregnancy. Although Dafne McPherson Veloz went to the doctors, none mentioned that she was or might be pregnant. Dafne McPherson Veloz and her attorneys have argued consistently that her trial was improper, both because of inadequate evidence and because the judge relied on “stereotypes” of how a woman, a “good mother”, should live. In other words, Dafne McPherson Veloz “should have known” she was pregnant and so she is guilty of murder. After three years, Dafne McPherson Veloz’s request for an appeal has been heard; her case will be heard January 21, 2019.

Two young women, Dafne McPherson Veloz and Amal Fathy, stare at each other and see themselves, multiplied endlessly.  They see women refusing to accept the globe of abandonment as inevitable. Patriarchy, and prisons, will attempt to expand, but women are resisting, in small and enormous ways. Tomorrow starts a new year of struggle and hope, however difficult, abounding. One must imagine Dafne McPherson Veloz and Amal Fathy happy.

Amal Fathy

(Photo Credit 1: El Sol de San Juan / Miriam Martinez) (Photo Credit 2: Amnesty)