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02 May

Messages from behind bars on World Press Freedom Day

Ahmet Altan: “I’m happy, I’m hopeful.” Mehmet Altan: “We fell victim to this dead-end street of despair.”

 
An exhibition at the initiative of three political groups in the European Parliament to mark the World Press Freedom Day features the plight of more than 160 journalists who are currently behind bars in Turkey.
 
The exhibition, titled “Expression Interrupted,” aims to put faces to some 30 of the journalists, displaying their photographs along with brief information on their career and the charges they face.
 
On Tuesday evening, a symposium was held as part of the exhibition at the European Parliament. Sevinç Kart, the wife of imprisoned Cumhuriyet cartoonist Musa Kart addressed the large crowd of audience while novelist Aslı Erdoğan, who was detained for four months on terrorism and anti-state charges for her role as a member of an advisory board and columnist of the shuttered Özgür Gündem before being released in December, attended the symposium via video conference as she is barred from traveling abroad due to her ongoing trial.
 
Novelist Ahmet Altan and economist Mehmet Altan, two of the imprisoned journalists who are currently held in pre-trial detention in İstanbul’s Silivri Prison No. 9 on “coup” charges stemming from some of their newspaper articles and comments during a television program, sent messages to the symposium.
 
“In the prison of a country whose courts have been turned into the slaughterhouse of law, I remain happy and hopeful,” said Ahmet Altan in his message, sent via his lawyers. “My trust in people and in humanity has never been shaken and never will be. Because of my trust in them, no matter what happens I will live on happily and with hope behind bars.”
 
His brother, Mehmet Altan’s message reads: “Whenever this land is not governed humanely, oppression and cruelty intensify. In the year 2017, it was our turn to fall victim to this dead-end street of despair where one follows in one’s own tracks. Turkish history is full of examples of what we are going through. People who use their brains have always been treated with cruelty. I used to think this was over and this ugly sense of despair would not repeat itself. I was mistaken.”
 
Sevinç Kart was roundly applauded after reading out statements from the imprisoned Cumhuriyet journalists. A total of 11 journalists and executives of Cumhuriyet are currently behind bars on terrorism charges.
 
“Think of a newspaper which has a shuttle bus to take families every week to visit its employees in the prison,” she said, adding: “Our children have had to grow up quickly.”
 
Aslı Erdoğan, facing aggravated life sentence, said no woman novelist has faced such a serious punishment since the Second World War. “They told me ‘we can keep you as long as we want’, perhaps a life time perhaps three months. I know every word I speak can make me end up in prison tomorrow,” she said.
 
MEP Rebecca Harms of the Greens/European Free Alliance, one of the three political groups that organized the exhibition, said today journalists in Turkey suffer because they take their job seriously.
 
“We believe that those responsible for the coup attempt [of July 15, 2016] should be tried and punished, but according to democratic norms,” she said. “What is happening in Turkey has nothing to do with proportionality of measures which we would expect from a democratic country.”
 
Andrew Finkel, a founding member of the Punto24 Platform for Independent Journalism (P24) who addressed the symposium, said most of the imprisoned journalists “have spent months and months behind bars without even seeing a prosecutor’s indictment.”
 
“This is a justice system turned on its head. It doesn’t protect free speech it deters people’s basic human right to free expression,” said Finkel. “These are not people who have offended our sense of justice but whose very treatment offends our sense of justice.”
 
 

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