Finally, after six years and six months, journalist Nedim Türfent from Gever (Yüksekova) was released from jail. He had completed his sentence for ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’, a crime he obviously did not commit. Good news? Of course. But is it enough? Of course not.
Nedim Türfent is one of those Kurdish journalists who are so dedicated to their profession and to the service they want to give to their people via journalism, that he continued his work even though his arrest was imminent. Eventually he was detained when he was checked at a military checkpoint on the road while travelling for a story. Not much later, he was sentenced based on fabricated evidence, and on the statement of anonymous witnesses who were tortured into testifying against him.
In jail, he continued to write. He answered letters of those who wrote to him to support him, like me, but he also wrote essays, for example for international PEN, and he started writing poetry as well. His writing is a tribute to the truth that the state can lock up your body, but never your free mind and free pen.
Half your life
My colleague Nedim is one of several Kurds who recently have been released from jail after serving their sentences. Spending six and a half years in jail for political reasons is already a terrible ordeal, but imagine spending more than half your life behind bars for a crime you never committed? Such cases are no exceptions. Only in the last four months, four people have been released after thirty years in jail for crimes they didn’t commit.
In August, Mizgin Aydın was released, after she was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment when she was only 19 years old. Her crime, according to the state was ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’. She’s 50 years old now, suffering from high blood pressure, kidney failure, and breast cancer.
In October, Yılmaz Atlığ was released. He had been arrested in Batman in 1992 and was sentenced to life imprisonment for ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’, which in this case meant 30 years. After release, he went back to his family in Batman.
A few days later, Kadir Kaplan was released. He was sentenced to 36 years in 1992 for ‘breaking the unity of the country’, served his sentence in five different prisons and is now back with his family in Van.
Earlier this month, Emine Yıldırım was released from the women’s prison in Gebze (close to Istanbul). She was arrested as a 22-year old in 1992 in Lice (Diyarbakır province) and sentenced to life imprisonment for ‘overthrowing the constitutional order’. She was welcomed on the outside by ululations.
Mizgin, Yılmaz, Kadir and Emine were all sentenced by a so-called ‘State Security Court’. These were military courts in which military commanders had seats as judges, and which were notorious for getting confessions from suspects through torture, and which used fabricated evidence. The absurd thing is that the State Security Courts were abolished in 2004, but their verdicts have never been reversed and those convicted by these courts are still serving their times behind bars.
Nedim Türfent was sentenced by a regular court. His case however clearly shows how the state still resorts to travesties of justice to get Kurds who serve their communities, in this case through journalism, behind bars. It is great that he is free now, but how will he, and the others mentioned in this column, ever be really free as long as many of their fellow-Kurds are still in jail for political reasons?
Coincidentally, this morning I stumbled upon the news about the “Democratic Memory Law” that was adopted by Spanish parliament. The law, among a range of other things, pardons anyone convicted of political crimes by the tribunals of fascist dictator Francisco Franco, who ruled for 36 years after the civil war (1936-1939). Part of the people concerned have already passed away and will be pardoned posthumously, others will finally be irreversibly cleared of the charges once brought against them. This happens a staggering 47 years after the Franco-era came to an end by the death of the dictator.
In Turkey, the fascist dictatorship continues almost a century after it was instated in 1923. A whole range of presidents and prime ministers have ruled and died, a whole range of courts and sentences, including the death penalty, have been handed to members of assorted groups in society that have resisted Turkish fascism, but the core of the system never crumbled. On the contrary: Erdoğan has only deepened Turkey’s problems and undermined state institutions that could have been helpful in making a transition to democracy.
The road towards democracy seems longer than ever, even more so because the longer this system prevails, the more it is normalised and not even seen as fascist anymore, and not even seen as something worth fighting against. The current ‘opposition’ of six political parties united in the Nation Alliance is testimony to that: It opposes Erdoğan, not the state structures that have sent Nedim, Mizgin, Yılmaz, Kadir and Emine to jail, not the state structures that hanged Kurdish resistance leaders in the first decades of the republic and Turkish revolutionary leaders in the 1970s, not the state structures that sent PKK-leader Abdullah Öcalan to Imralı prison for life almost a quarter of a century ago.
What I want to say is: releasing Nedim and all the others is not enough. What is needed, is for them to be recognised as political prisoners and their names to be cleared. The communities where they come from already recognise that, but the state has to acknowledge that too. Eventually, that is what the struggle is all about: Getting people out of jail, and celebrating their contribution to bringing down fascism.
- Fréderike Geerdink is an independent journalist. Follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her acclaimed weekly newsletter Expert Kurdistan.