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17 June

Türfent and Ataman complain about arbitrary practices in jail

P24 visits journalists Ziya Ataman and Nedim Türfent, obtains information about their conditions in prison

P24 has launched a new initiative to collect information about the prison conditions of journalists who currently remain in detention pending trial or have been convicted. A survey with 10 questions was created to identify the rights violations journalists have been subjected to since they were sent to jail. The survey also aims to address major hurdles they face when using their rights of defence and to ensure that their basic daily needs are met.

On June 11, P24 visited two journalists, Ziya Ataman and Nedim Türfent, in the eastern city of Van. Both are reporters of the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency (DİHA), which was shut down by an emergency decree on October 2016. Ataman has been in detention pending trial for 26 months and the first hearing of his case was heard on March 2018. For his part, Türfent was convicted to 8 years and 9 months in prison on December 2017 after a highly controversial trial in which 20 witnesses had confessed to having testified against the journalist under police torture.

 

Ziya Ataman

Ataman was arrested in Van on April 10, 2016 and imprisoned pending trial by a court a day later. He worked as a reporter for DİHA in the provinces of Van and Şırnak, where his family lives. Before that, he worked for years distributing the pro-Kurdish daily newspaper Özgür Gündem, which was also shuttered during the state of emergency. His case remained in inertia for more than 1.5 years, with the indictment sent to the court 20 months after Ataman’s arrest. Ataman was also unable to attend the second hearing of his trial, heard on May 25, 2018, due to a failure on the judicial teleconferencing system that was supposed to connect the 1st High Criminal Court of Şırnak, which oversees the trial, to the prison in Van where Ataman remains in custody. As such, in 26 months of detention, Ataman was only able to defend himself for a few minutes during the first hearing of his trial, heard on March 2018. The third hearing of the trial has been scheduled for August 7.

 

Forced disposal of construction waste

Ataman stays with three inmates in a cell, which opens to an “eight paces-long” backyard. When he was sent to the newly constructed Van High Security Prison back in November 2016, he and other inmates were forced to dispose wastes of construction that remained in the facility, Ataman told P24. It took them four days to dispose the wastes, he said.

 

Denied visit to infirmary for four months

Ataman said he experienced several health problems following his imprisonment — especially, digestive disorders. He was denied a visit to the infirmary for four months despite filing a petition in line with the prison procedures. Ataman said he was in constant pain that prevented him from even sleeping at night for months. Following his medical examination, Ataman was eventually diagnosed of gastrointestinal failure and has been using medication since.

 

Food not adequate for health issues

Ataman told P24 that he needs to follow a strict diet because of his digestive health problems. However, the food served to him is the same as the food served to other inmates, he said. He once broke a tooth due to a small stone that was in the bulgur wheat rice, Ataman said, describing the food generally served to them as “bad”.

 

Disciplinary penalties for filing complaint against psychological harassment

Inmates are being subject to the constant psychological harassment of a group of prison wardens, Ataman said. He explained that the prison administration would open investigations against inmates or give them disciplinary penalties when they would file complaints about the humiliation and scolding by the wardens. Ataman also said while some of their demands would be granted in time, it usually took months to receive any kind of response. For example, Ataman said he once had to wait for three months to be sent to the barber’s after filing a petition for a haircut.

 

Witness retracted statement at court

Ataman said he became a reporter for DİHA seven months prior to being arrested in Van. He said he had been very enthusiastic about his new job after years of working as a newspaper distributor. Ataman explained that accusations linking him to an attack in his hometown of Beytüşşebap, a mountainous district of the southeastern province of Şırnak, were based to the testimony of a sole witness. However, the same witness retracted his statements at court during the first hearing of the trial last March, saying those statements had been taken at the police station under duress and threats, Ataman said. But despite having spent more than two years in custody, Ataman was unable to intervene during the second hearing of his trial due to a technical failure in the judicial teleconferencing system.

 

Inability to reach the entire case file

Ataman also told P24 that he wasn’t granted access to a computer and to the library, although the law gives all prison inmates the right to do so for two hours per week. He also said he only had access to the indictment, the proceedings report and the court proceedings, which are communicated to all defendants.

However, Ataman has been unable to see the entire case file, which includes key details on the case, and was forced to prepare his defence with limited information. Ataman expects support during the upcoming third hearing of his trial on August 7.

 

Nedim Türfent

DİHA’s Yüksekova reporter Nedim Türfent was arrested on May 12, 2016, at a checkpoint at the entrance of the city of Van and imprisoned pending trial by a court the next day. Türfent, who covered the military operations of early 2016 in his hometown of Yüksekova, in the southeastern Hakkâri province, was receiving threats since he disclosed a video showing the ill-treatment inflicted by a special forces commander to people who were under arrest.

His trial, which started on June 1, 2017 — more than a year after his arrest — was marred by claims of torture. 20 witnesses who testified against the reporter at the police station retracted their statements during the trial arguing that they had given those statements under torture. Despite the retractions, the court sentenced Türfent to 8 years 9 months in prison for “membership in a terrorist organization.”

Türfent had to move to five different prisons during his time in custody, eventually being sent to the newly built Van High Security Prison on 26 April, 2016. Türfent has remained in solitary confinement since then, only being able to share a common space with one inmate.

 

I use self-censorship when writing letters”

Türfent is allowed to receive letters, but those are sometimes given to him months later and sometimes not at all. He told P24 that he received on June 10 a letter that was sent to him in January 2018. Letters were strictly scrutinized, he said, adding that “he had to use self-censorship when he wrote.”

“Letters are seized if they contain criticism towards the prison (or the government or the state),” he said. The same arbitrariness is also valid for some books or periodic publications. “Articles containing criticism and books, magazines or newspapers which are not banned can be seized by the ‘Education Committee’,” he said.

 

Denied being sent to hospital within 20 minutes for four months

A strip search had been imposed on all inmates when they had been moved to the Van High Security Prison, including to him, Türfent said. He also explained that inmates face major healthcare issues in the prison. Türfent was only able to be examined at the prison’s infirmary over a toothache after filing several petitions.

He especially notes that hospital transfers are commonly done long after the doctor grants  permission for them: Türfent himself was denied to go to a hospital only 20 minutes from the prison for four months. He also said inmates would often be subject to the verbal abuse of soldiers during their transfer to hospitals.   

 

Pledges present for first deputy who visits him

When asked if any members of parliament had come to his visit during the two years he had been imprisoned, Türfent said: “No one visited me until now, I am thinking to give a present to the first one who comes. Our door is open!”

Türfent was unable to access a computer and the library to prepare his defence during his entire trial, which was concluded last December. “I’m learning that we had such a right from you, thank you. I prepared all my defence statements with handmade words. It was easy because I explained the profession of journalism,” he said.

 

Demand of sharing same common space with Ataman refused

Türfent also told that they had filed many petitions to share a common space with his colleague Ziya Ataman, but all had been arbitrarily refused. He was allowed to attend the sport and conversation activity — granted to all inmates — only a year after repeatedly filing petitions.

 

Call of solidarity for 800th day in prison

Türfent’s case is now expected to be appealed at a Regional Court, but he says he hasn’t yet received any notification from his lawyers that the appeal has been filed. He also lacks information on whether any complaint was filed on his behalf at the Turkish Constitutional Court or the European Court of Human Rights, Türfent said.

Noting that July 20 will mark his 800th day in prison, Türfent called for an action of solidarity that day from national and international organizations. While emphasizing that his case was getting some public attention, he also asked not to forget other journalists who couldn’t even afford to get a lawyer.

 



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