On 5 February, over 650 writers, journalists, publishers, artists and activists signed an appeal calling for the immediate and unconditional release of writer Nedim Türfent, a news editor and reporter for the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency (DIHA). Türfent has now spent over a thousand days behind bars.
Türfent was arrested on 12 May 2016 after covering clashes between the Turkish army and armed members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the southeast of Turkey, where a majority of the population is Kurdish. He was held for almost two years in solitary confinement, during which time he was transferred between prisons on several occasions. In a letter dated 8 May 2017 addressed to Turkish columnists, he reported having to endure harrowing conditions in his four-metre-long prison cell and claimed that he was denied access to television, radio, books and newspapers and had to read ‘the back of detergent boxes’ to pass time. Prolonged solitary confinement is considered inhumane and degrading treatment by the UN.
Ten months after his arrest, Türfent was finally charged with ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’ and ‘spreading terrorist propaganda’. Among the reasons listed in the indictment were his social media posts and news reporting. The first hearing was held in Hakkari on 14 June 2017, some two hundred kilometres away from Van, where he was being detained. He was denied the right to appear physically in court seven times. Instead, he was forced to testify via the judicial conferencing system SEGBIS and experienced severe connection and interpretation problems. Out of the twenty witnesses called to testify against Türfent, nineteen later retracted their statements, saying that these had been extracted under torture.
Despite such flagrant violations, on 15 December 2017 Türfent was sentenced to eight years and nine months in prison. On 19 June 2018, his conviction was upheld. On 3 September, his lawyers lodged an appeal before Turkey’s Constitutional Court. Türfent remains in detention while waiting for its ruling. He is studying Turkish, English and German and has started writing poetry. He told his lawyers, ‘I try to make use of my time in prison, and I try to make this period as colourful and alive to the extent that is possible. To do this, I put words together here and there.’
Kurdish culture and language continue to be harshly repressed in Turkey. Many pro-Kurdish and Kurdish-language media outlets have been closed down and dozens of Kurdish or pro-Kurdish journalists are in prison. The Turkish authorities have even persecuted members of Academics for Peace, a diverse group that in January 2016 produced a declaration calling for peace in Turkey’s southeast. Some members have been convicted of spreading terrorist propaganda, others remain on trial.
According to the International Press Institute (IPI), Türfent is innocent of any crime and is being persecuted for having published a story that the Turkish authorities did not want to be revealed. Caroline Stockford, IPI’s Turkey advocacy coordinator, has commented, ‘His case is one of the most unjust in a country full of unwarranted legal cases against journalists.’
Veysel Ok, codirector of the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA), has likewise observed, ‘The story of Nedim is actually the story of Kurdish journalism. Nedim’s trial differs from the journalism trials known in the West in that the police extracted witness testimony by force and through torture. Nedim himself was physically tortured. He was convicted without being taken to the court trying him.’ The appeal letter signed by over 650 cultural figures (coordinated by IPI, MLSA and PEN) contains the following statement:
For over two years, we have witnessed the Turkish authorities pursue an unprecedented crackdown against independent voices, severely restricting fundamental rights and freedoms. Although the state of emergency has now officially been lifted, Turkey remains the largest jailer of journalists in the world. Amongst those unfairly imprisoned is you, Nedim … we are writing to let you know that you are not alone. We stand alongside you and unite our voices to call for your immediate and unconditional release. We will continue to fight for the rights of journalists and writers – in Turkey and around the world – to be able to write freely, and for all those jailed for peacefully expressing their views to be free.
Readers can add their names by visiting http://pen-international.org/petition-free-nedim-turfent
Readers might also like to send appeals urging the Turkish authorities to release Nedim Türfent immediately and unconditionally, to end the prosecution and detention of journalists on the basis of their writing or alleged affiliations, and to immediately release all those held in prison for exercising their right to freedom of opinion and expression.
Appeals to be addressed to:
Ministry of Justice
Adalet Bakanlığı, 06659 Ankara, Turkey
Fax: +90 312 419 33 70
Tweet about Nedim’s case using the hashtags #FreeNedim and #FreeTurkeyMedia. Messages of solidarity in English, German, Turkish or Kurdish can be sent to:
Van Yüksek Güvenlikli
Kapalı Ceza Infaz Kurumu, Koğuş A53, Van, Turkey
Update: Another victim of repression in Turkey is Ahmet Altan (LR, April 2018). Former editor-in-chief of the now defunct Taraf newspaper, Altan, together with his brother the columnist and academic Mehmet Altan and veteran journalist and commentator Nazli Ilıcak, is serving a life sentence for attempting to overthrow the constitutional order. In October 2018, Europa Editions republished Like a Sword Wound, the first part of Altan’s Ottoman Quartet. This month Granta is publishing I Will Never See the World Again, a short collection of Altan’s essays written in prison.