Maybe my grandchildren will see justice, says jailed Kurdish journalist

Many journalists in Turkey are behind bars merely for doing their jobs.

One such person is Nedim Türfent, who was arrested in 2016 after he released images of torture at a construction site in the Yüksekova district of Van, where a special operations officer mistreated Kurdish workers, threatening them with the “Power of the Turks”.

Türfent, a reporter from the Dicle News Agency (DİHA), which was shuttered by a presidential decree following the 2016 coup attempt, has been in jail for over 2,000 days. Türfent is among Turkey’s journalists who have been serving the longest prison terms, alongside his colleague Mehmet Baransu, the winner of the Sedat Simavi Journalism Award.

Türfent created waves in 2015-2016 while reporting on human rights violations during a curfew in effect in the Yüksekova amid an intensified conflict between the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish military.

Footage released by the journalist revealed that a special operations officer threatened the local Kurdish population by saying: "You will see the power of the Turk.’’

Türfent, who was arrested on charges of membership of a terrorist organisation on May 13, 2016, was sentenced to eight years and nine months in prison.

International human rights groups have called for his release. He answered Ahval's questions from prison.

 

You have completed your 2,000th day in prison, where there are frequent reports of violations of prisoners’ rights. Pandemic restrictions have also made the situation worse. How are your days in prison under such restrictions?

We, prisoners of this period, live in a prison inside a prison. The phrase may sound strange, but prison has actually been turned into a dungeon for us. We have been kept under an aggravated isolation for more than two years due to the state of emergency  (following the 2016 coup attempt) followed by another two years due to the pandemic. While the number of social activities in our country's prisons remained low in the past, we are now at a point where the mere opening and closing of the iron door of wards is our only social activity and interaction.

Our rights to sports, social activities, courses and similar rights have been suspended for two years. We are not allowed to enjoy our rights concerning barber, tailor, mail and most importantly open visits. Although we are vaccinated, restrictions have not been eased in our prison.

In this prison, cells are for one and three people. Currently, we are two people staying together. Aside from the fact that no open visits are allowed, closed visits are limited to only two people and one hour twice a month.

For two years, we have not been able to have contact with visitors or our lawyers.

Just as there are jailed parents who could not touch their children for two years, there are also parents who are not allowed to touch their children inside. The prison administration shifts the responsibility to the ministry.

It seems that the ministry, which takes advantage of the situation, will evade its responsibility

There is so much injustice in our country that people feel ashamed to talk about their own situation. However, sometimes it is easier to explain injustices through some known cases. I believe that there is no fair judgment in my case.

There are reports that our hearings will be held, yet no proper investigation was carried out. None of our requests were accepted. My trial was completed in the flash of an eye during the state of emergency rule.

For instance, while the Constitutional Court considers the failure to appear before a judge at least once as a "violation of rights’’, I have yet to see a judge even once.

For some reason, this doesn't attract anyone's attention and I am getting tired of repeating myself.  There are cases where witnesses have told judges that they were forced to sign the statements in question under torture.

 

You have received a jail sentence. The Supreme Court upheld the sentence despite the statements of the witnesses that they testified against you under torture. Considering that many journalists and politicians in Turkey are in prison despite the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), how do you evaluate the sentence given to you and do you see a possibility of justice on the horizon?

In my case, the court admittedly considered that the production of “disturbing news" was evidence for membership of an armed terrorist organisation.

The phrase "shock and disturbing news do not constitute a crime" was added to the relevant article of the anti-terror law through a judicial reform package in 2019, so why did the Supreme Court approve my jail time despite the apparent violations of rights?

Two possibilities come to mind. They are either looking to get revenge, or the Supreme Court dealt with my case in a negligent way.

No matter what decision is reached from now on, it is no longer possible to restore justice. Nonetheless, I still expect the ECHR and the Constitutional Court to respond to my individual application.

Maybe my grandchildren will see justice. And let me remind you that I am single, so you the math on my expectations for justice in this country.

 

Are you able to follow the news while in prison and what do you think about the current state of affairs in journalism as far as you can follow?

As far as we can follow, the courts in our country are now attempting to draw boundaries for journalistic activities. They speculate over journalism.

In fact, this is all about the spirit of the time and the political atmosphere in the country. Dozens of journalists went to the Qandil Mountains, where the headquarters for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is located, for interviews and documentaries. None of them were investigated.

Despite the new laws in favour of journalism in recent years, the mistreatment against them continues. One or two disturbing news or even social media posts can be cited for a "terrorism" accusation, leading to the arrest and punishment of journalists. My own case is an example of this.

Journalism is generally difficult in our country, yet it is more difficult in southeastern cities for colleagues engaged in human rights-oriented journalism. When your news concerning violations of rights disturb state authorities, a Damocles sword hangs over you. There is another important reason for Ankara’s crackdown against journalists: Some news may damage the survival of the state and the state's fight against terrorism. 

 

Do you receive any support from politicians, or have you ever thought that you fail to receive legal support and are left to fend for yourself?

Not a single parliamentarian has come to visit me so far, but some deputies have sent a letter. Attorney visits and legal support were not enough in the beginning.

However, especially in the last year, things have gotten better thanks to Turkish non-profit, the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA)

Through your media orgaisation, I would like to thank all lawyer friends, as well as national and international organisations.

 

You have recently published a book of poetry called “Bird Mirror”. What would you like to say about this work and do you have any other book projects?

While behind bars, I studied German and French for a while, but I got bored and am now learning Spanish. I have a relatively good command of the language.

As for “Bird Mirror”, it represents my noviciate in poetry. Since my teenage years, reading and writing poetry has made me feel good. I think poetry keeps people, especially prisoners, on their feet and alive.

And when you look at the poetry anthologies, you realise that the most beautiful poems were written in prisons, underground, abroad or in exile.

 

Finally, do you have a message for the public?

In our country, there are infants, children and sick people in prisons. Under the circumstances, I feel as though I cannot complain about the number of days I will spend in prison. It makes me feel bad. I have been in prison for five-and-a-half years.

The government has made us accustomed to what is going on and I hope that we will get rid of this learned helplessness as soon as possible.

People are missing old friendships and conversations as they have become increasingly alienated from one another out of fear and paranoia. Apathy and indifference have become widespread, affecting individuals and society.

I hope that we can overcome this polarisation through social solidarity and unity.

I would like to thank you and Ahval's employees for this valuable interview.

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