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Turkey: Free Nedim Türfent

Monday 17 December 2018 - 9:33am

Nedim Türfent

‘No matter what the price or consequence might be, we will never compromise from the magical creations of writing and of the written word. We would like to repeat once again our gratitude to PEN members, who have stood by us on this path.’ Nedim Türfent

15 December marked one year since news editor and reporter, Nedim Türfent, was sentenced to eight years and nine months in prison on trumped-up terrorism charges following an unfair trial, during which scores of witnesses said they had been tortured into testifying against him. Prior to his arrest, Nedim Türfent was covering Turkish military operations in southeast Turkey. He spent almost two years in solidarity confinement in harrowing detention conditions. His sentence was upheld on 19 June 2018 and his lawyers have lodged an appeal before the Constitutional Court. Determined to keep writing, Nedim Türfent started composing poetry while detained. PEN International believes that Nedim Türfent is being imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

Please send appeals:

  • Urging the Turkish authorities to release Nedim Türfent immediately and unconditionally;
  • Calling on the Turkish authorities to end the prosecution and detention of journalists simply on the basis of the content of their writing or alleged affiliations, and to immediately release all those held in prison for exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and expression.

Send appeals to:

Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gül, Ministry of Justice, Adalet Bakanlığı, 06659 Ankara, Turkey

Send copies to the Embassy of Turkey in your own country. Embassy addresses may be found here: https://embassy.goabroad.com/embassies-of/turkey.

Please reach out to your Ministry of Foreign Affairs and diplomatic representatives in Turkey, calling on them to raise Nedim Türfent’s case in bilateral fora.

Please inform PEN of any action you take and of any responses you receive.

Publicity

PEN members are encouraged to:

  • Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the case of Nedim Türfent and freedom of expression in Turkey;
  • Share information about Nedim Türfent and your campaigning activities via social media;
  • Organise public events, poetry readings and demonstrations;
  • Promote Nedim Türfent’s writings and translate his poetry (see extract below).

Please keep us informed of your activities.

Solidarity

In response to a solidarity letter sent earlier this year by press freedom groups, including PEN International, Nedim Türfent wrote:

I send my sincerest love and greetings to all the organisations and individuals who are organising a campaign for me and who are continuing their efforts. As long as you show this valuable solidarity, hope will always continue to remain in my heart.’

Speaking to his lawyer earlier this month, he added:

‘No matter what the price or consequence might be, we will never compromise from the magical creations of writing and of the written word. We would like to repeat once again our gratitude to PEN members, who have stood by us on this path. We will create beautiful things as we continue to be together. Efforts by PEN make us happy, boost our morale. We are grateful’.

Please keep sending messages of solidarity in English, German, Turkish or Kurdish, to:

Nedim Türfent, Van Yüksek Güvenlikli, Kapalı Ceza İnfaz Kurumu, Koğuş A53, Van, Turkey

Consider electing Nedim Türfent as an honorary member of your Centre. Details of how to campaign for honorary members may be found in PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee Handbook, available here.

We further encourage Centres to send him books and magazines.

Background 

A news editor and reporter at the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency (DİHA), Nedim Türfent was arrested on 12 May 2016 after covering clashes between the Turkish army and the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the predominantly Kurdish southeast of Turkey. He had notably received the prestigious Musa Anter journalism award for a story covering a military operation in the Kurdish city of Yüksekova, where a group of soldiers reportedly handcuffed and pinned 50 villagers face down, yelling slurs such as ‘you will witness the power of the Turk’.

Nedim Türfent spent nearly two years in solidarity confinement, during which time he was transferred to several prisons. In a letter addressed to Turkish columnists and dated 8 May 2017, he reported harrowing detention conditions in his four-meter-long prison cell, where he was denied access to TV, radio, books or newspapers and forced to read ‘the back of detergent boxes’ to pass time. According to the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, prolonged solitary confinement amounts to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and must not be imposed under any circumstances.

Nedim Türfent was formally charged with ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’ and ‘spreading terrorist propaganda’ 10 months after his arrest. Among the reasons listed in his indictment were his social media posts, his news reporting and 20 concealed witness testimonies. His first hearing was held in Hakkari on 14 June 2017, some 200km away from Van where he was being detained. He was denied the right to appear physically in court seven times, and instead testified via the judicial conferencing system SEGBİS, experiencing severe connection and interpretation issues. Out of the 20 witnesses called, 19 retracted their statements, saying they had been extracted under torture. Despite such clear evidence of flagrant fair trial violations, Nedim Türfent was sentenced to eight years and nine months in prison for ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’ and ‘spreading terrorist propaganda’ on 15 December 2017.

On 19 June 2018, the Erzurum Regional Appeals Court upheld Nedim Türfent’s conviction. His lawyers lodged an appeal before Turkey’s Constitutional Court on 3 September 2018. While waiting for a ruling on his case, Nedim Türfent spends his time studying Turkish, English and German and writing poetry.

Freedom of expression in Turkey

The free expression environment in Turkey continues to worsen at breakneck speed. Over 170 journalists and writers are imprisoned, making Turkey the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. Over 190 media outlets and publishing houses, including DİHA, have been closed down. Although the situation has deteriorated dramatically since the 15 July 2016 coup attempt, Nedim Türfent’s case highlights the significance of the arrests made prior to the coup. Freedom of expression in Turkey has long been under attack and that as many as 30 journalists were languishing behind bars before July 2016.

Kurdish culture and language continue to be harshly repressed. Most pro-Kurdish and Kurdish language media outlets have been closed down and dozens of journalists of Kurdish or pro-Kurdish outlets are in prison, including journalist, painter and poet Zehra Doğan. Renewed violence since the breakdown of the peace process between the Turkish authorities and the PKK in July 2015 has seen thousands killed and wounded. Historical sites and buildings have been destroyed. Meanwhile, the Turkish authorities have taken to persecuting those who call for peace, including Academics for Peace, a diverse group who signed a declaration calling for peace in Turkey’s southeast in January 2016. Some members have been convicted of spreading terrorist propaganda, others remain on trial.

For more information about freedom of expression in Turkey please click here.

Poetry extract

Nedim Türfent told his lawyers:

I try to make use of my time in prison, and I try to make this period as colorful and alive to the extent that is possible. To do this, I put words together here and there’.

Here is an extract of his poetry, translated into English:

Your heart has become the earth

let it give elixir into the veins

bring fertility to the soil

from the springs behind the mountain Qaf.

let the benevolence of the crops

be the silver key to life.

let your heart soothe

the farmer

the peasant

the day laborer

the distressed

let it massage the broken wings of birds

with ointments

let it grant refuge

to the ants, working collectively, in solidarity

let your heart fill with generosity

giving butterflies an extra day of life

let it be a lifeline

like the womb

let your heart be crystal clear

as clear as water

let it give life to the lifeless.

Translation by Barış Altıntaş, Media and Law Studies Association (MSLA). First published here. Should you wish to translate Nedim Türfent’s poetry, please contact Aurelia.dondo@pen-international.org.

Dutch version - translation by Sytske Sötemann

laat jouw hart dat de aarde is geworden
het elixer uit de bronnen achter de Berg Kaf
in de aderen gieten, vruchtbaarheid brengen in de bodem.

en laat de aalmoes
van het geoogste graan
de zilveren sleutel zijn van het leven.

laat je hart voor de boer
de knecht
de dagloner
geneeskrachtig zijn
voor de noodlijdende
een redmiddel.

laat het de gebroken vleugels
van vogels zalven
laat het oog en oor zijn
onbaatzuchtig
voor de ordelijk coöpererende mieren.

laat je hart vrijgevig zijn
de vlinders meer dan één dag leven schenken.

laat het levensbron zijn
zoals de baarmoeder.

en laat uiteindelijk je hart helder zijn
klaar als water.

het verwelkte groen eeuwig opwekken.
melk drinken uit de helwitte borst van de zon
en zogen wie behoeftig is.

laat je hart het magische elixer van het leven zijn
leven geven
aan de levenloze...

For further details contact Aurélia Dondo at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, UK Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338 Fax  +44 (0) 20 7405 0339 e-mail: Aurelia.dondo@pen-international.org