Ahmet ŞıkAge 46Profession Author, investigative journalist and trade unionistCharge Terrorist propagandaTime behind bars Four months and counting, and one year and one month in 2011-12Possible maximum sentence Seven and a half years
It is hard to be in prison. It’s even harder when it’s because your typical acts of journalism have been criminalised. We are surrounded by emptiness: stuck between a past that we don’t belong to and a future that we can’t predict.
The only link that connects me and my fellow inmates to the outside world is the little bit of sky that winks at us beyond an eight-metre wall. A little piece of sky, barely as big as my palm, which is also obstructed by razor wire.
Books and letters would bring a sense of freedom to a place like this, where everything is so rigid and unjust. But they are forbidden. The newspapers and television do not give us much comfort.
For a long time there has been a world of difference between what appears on the screens and pages and the actual reality of what is happening in Turkey.
Right now, I feel what anyone would feel if their freedom was taken away if they refused to be a journalist that obey their president.
Being in my situation is like being awoken from your sleep in a place that you are completely foreign to. You feel deaf although you can hear everything, you feel blind although you can see everything, and you feel muted although you can explain everything. This is where I’m at right now.
Testimony collected by Ahmet’s wife, Yonca Verdioğlu Şık
Necmiye AlpayAge 70Profession writer and advisory board member at Ozgür GündemCharge terrorist propagandaTime spent behind bars released after four months’ pretrial detention, trial still pendingMaximum possible sentence life imprisonment
Towards the end of August 2016, I was out of Istanbul when I found out that I was “wanted” by the police, together with the other members of the advisory board.
I was advised to give testimony. So, with my lawyer, we went to the prosecutor’s office where I was told “that Ozgür Gündem is an organ of the [outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ party] PKK, and every name on its masthead is suspected of being a kind of terrorist propagandist”.
I explained that I supported freedom of the press and freedom of expression, and I believed in a democratic and peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem, but that I didn’t condone violence or terrorists.
I was arrested that day. The moment you say you’re in solidarity, you’re finished.
When you are put in prison you must spend one, two or three days in solitary so they can observe you. Perhaps there’s a logic in this. My bed was clean and I was given water and soap. I slept a lot.
I was moved to the “PKK ward”. We were 21 or 22 women in the ward and I was happy to know them. It was the first time I was living with Kurdish people. It was quite easy to live with them because they had their communal rules … almost like a student dorm.
I had been imprisoned during the 1980s after the military coup when the prosecutors used to request capital punishment. Now the requested punishment for me is life imprisonment.
We were accused of the same crime as Abdullah Öcalan, the founder of the PKK. It is a kind of torture, to frighten you, a way of using the law to punish you for your opinions, for something you didn’t commit.
The only “evidence” for our crime was our names published on the masthead. I was mad, but from time to time I was laughing, because it is a kind of farce.
When I was imprisoned my work was stopped. I could no longer continue the book I was preparing. But I tried to profit from the situation and began to learn Kurdish. I didn’t cry in prison. Perhaps I should have, but no.
Perhaps the worst thing was the not knowing – will we be free soon, or will we stay here? It’s the same with Turkey today. We cannot be sure what awaits our country.
Ahmet AltanAge 67Profession journalist, author, columnistCharge attempting to bring down the governmentTime spent behind bars five months and countingPossible sentence three consecutive life sentences
My experiences in prison are writing themselves into a memoir which will become a book some day. I had a novel in mind before they put me here. I think of that all the time.
Three of us stay together in one cell. We only have a very small patio to walk around on. We don’t see anyone else during the day.
I do not feel a physical danger from other inmates or the authorities. Anyone who would dare to threaten me physically should give up on themselves.
As I am held under the state of emergency laws, sending and receiving letters [or any written communication] is absolutely forbidden. We meet our lawyers once a week but all of our communication is verbal.
It is true that the charges against us are ludicrous. They make no sense but the problem is today that this nonsense has become the lifestyle in Turkey. It is as if I live on a desert island. I feel like Robinson Crusoe but I don’t know if my ship will ever arrive.
Testimonies collected verbally by Ahmet’s lawyers and translated by Yasemin Çongar at p24, a platform for independent journalism.
Aslı ErdoğanAge 50Profession writer, novelist, columnist for Ozgür GündemCharge terrorist propagandaTime spent behind bars released after four months’ pretrial detention, awaiting trialPossible maximum sentence life imprisonment
I have been broken and twisted in more ways than I can imagine. I feel very damaged. The day I was arrested the police came and searched my apartment for seven and a half hours while I waited – sifting through thousands of books and reading materials.
I was in a solitary cell for five days, only allowed one hour in the courtyard. You could go crazy after a while. I spent 48 hours without water when I first arrived. I was in shock which worked a bit like an anaesthetic.
The authorities try to make you not feel like a human being. Firstly it’s being behind bars, and when they come to talk to you they just open the lower hatch on the door. That’s how they give you bread too.
I was put in a prison ward with women accused of being PKK militants, because I was accused of supporting terrorism. I was arrested under article 302, but you would need to have an army, or be the founder of the PKK, to be guilty of what I am accused of.
I was very angry because it was so openly lawless. A newspaper cannot be a terrorist organisation and I hadn’t written a column since 2013.
Plants were banned in prison, but some of the girls were trying to grow them in the bathroom anyway – the way they took care of these plants was incredible. Then they were caught and begged to keep them. That made me cry.
When it was warm I would go out to the courtyard and practice ballet when it was free from 12-2pm. My fellow inmates found it a little strange, but it gave me a sense of normality. When I got a fever they took care of me like I was a baby.
I missed so many things . Walking without walls; listening to classical and jazz music; dancing; the earth; the sea. You can’t see the sunset or sunrise, just a small piece of sky and barbed wire.
Being released [after an intervention from the European court] was an adjustment process too. I woke up nauseated and screaming on the first night. I found it hard to remember what coffee to order.
I recently went back home for the first time. I had been staying with my mother. My phone books and bank cards were gone. I broke down when I couldn’t find my ballet slippers.
They had rummaged through everything. Everything was scattered around. I am someone who never throws out a scrap of paper from her apartment. It felt like I had been raped. I know they do this to writers now because they know how much it hurts.
Mehmet AltanAge 64Profession academic, author and journalistCharge attempting to overthrow the governmentTime spent behind bars five months and countingPossible sentence three consecutive life sentences
We are three people in the ward [a different one to my brother Altan’s]. We can’t communicate with our loved ones, let alone correspond with the outside world. We can’t write letters. People can’t write to us. What I am saying here has to be transcribed by my lawyers.
Although I have never felt in physical danger I have had to postpone all my existential emotions and ideas. We are contained in an environment where no needs of a mature mind are met. It is like wearing striped pyjamas. It is a very narrow life without any joy or feeling to it.
Should the rule of law reign in Turkey again one day I am confident that I won’t be considered a suspect even for a second. I am a suspect now only because I demanded democracy.
Erol ÖnderogluProfession journalist, Turkey representative for Reporters Without BordersCharge terrorist propagandaTime behind bars released after 10 days pretrial detention, trial pendingPossible maximum sentence 14 and a half years
I was arrested because my name appeared as one of the editors of the Kurdish daily Ozgür Gündem on 18 May. In fact, I didn’t edit the paper, nor had I read the articles; my name was there as a symbolic statement of support.
The day I was charged I went to court by myself, to see the prosecutor. His message was: “We don’t care whether this was part of a campaign. If you are defending media freedom, we are charging you with spreading propaganda in favour of the PKK.”
I said clearly that the articles published – about power struggles among the security forces and the ongoing operations against the PKK – were in the common interest of the Turkish people. For two decades I have protected freedom of expression for all political factions. This was no different.
On 20 June I was detained and spent 10 days in two prisons – an extremely short time compared to what some colleagues are experiencing.
I was released thanks to international pressure, which is now quite low as Erdoğan’s diplomatic rows suck up the energy. While I wasn’t physically harmed in jail, I was left with the feeling that my profession is no longer welcomed by the government and is perceived as a threat: journalists and civil society have been wiped out.
The hardest thing was when my wife and son came to visit and I could only talk to them from behind a glass wall. I was also surprised that I lost my muscles so quickly. Outside I am quite active.
People who have gone before me have been systematically convicted, and while I am still fighting my case it will happen eventually. I try to not dwell on it though. In this situation you are not yourself, but just one among all in this picture.