Turkish-Kurdish journalist Nedim Türfent has spent more than 1,000 days in prison since his arrest on May 12, 2016, following his coverage of Turkish security operations in the country’s southeast. After spending months in solitary confinement, Türfent was sentenced in December 2017 to nearly nine years in prison on terrorism charges for which prosecutors produced no credible evidence.
The court proceedings were marked by flagrant violations of Türfent’s right to a fair trial. Türfent was denied the right to appear physically in court seven times, instead forced to testify via a courtroom video link that experienced severe connection and interpretation issues. Out of the 20 prosecution witnesses called, 19 retracted their statements, saying they had been extracted under torture. The judicial panel explained its ruling by saying it was “disturbed” by Türfent’s reporting. On June 19, 2018, the Erzurum Regional Appeals Court upheld his conviction. On September 3, 2018, his lawyers lodged an appeal before Turkey’s Constitutional Court.
The International Press Institute (IPI) is reproducing the following letter written recently by Türfent from his prison cell. The letter was originally sent to the Dutch Association of Journalists (NVJ) as part of a joint project with Röportaj and was initially published in Dutch on Villamedia.nl. IPI is now publishing the letter in Turkish and English in cooperation with NVJ.
Read the full letter below.
Letter from Nedim Türfent:
“Now you’ll see the power of the Turk! What did this state do to you?” These were the threats hurled by the Turkish Police Special Forces with a deafening howl to some 40 Turkish and Kurdish workers who were lying on the ground in handcuffs following an early dawn raid on a worksite in my hometown, Yüksekova. After I exposed this harrowing scenery with its video footage, both the governor’s office and the Turkish interior ministry opened an investigation about the policemen in the blink of an eye.
Let me add a footnote here. This investigation against the policemen is gathering dust in the shelves of government offices in Ankara. Those who had protected perpetrators back then made me the center of the target instead. I was pressured, harassed and received death threats when I continued persistently working even during the clashes in the region between 2015 and 2016. As I kept revealing the truth – the most private and sacred for those in power – I began receiving death threats in the form of funeral photos sent to my personal accounts by the police. Still, I didn’t give up on journalism. Eventually, I was detained on May 12, 2016. I was subjected to torture similar to the one experienced by those workers. Thanks to public insistence, the police had to disclose my detention.
After waiting for an indictment for 13 months, a proceeding took place only as a mere formality. Other than news articles, the indictment cited several sloppy, copy-paste “witness” statements as evidence. These “witnesses” later accepted that they were under pressure and influence of the police at the time they signed the statements and described the torture they were subjected to in front of the court. With this, all witness statements became void and prosecution’s accusations were nullified. Nevertheless, despite the lack of any concrete criminal evidence, I was sentenced to eight years and nine months in prison. In its “tragicomic” detailed ruling, the court justified the charges of “membership of a terrorist organization” on the basis of my “disturbing news and reports”!
Even though my appeal is now pending in the upper court, I do not hold any hopes of domestic legal recourse due to the current political climate in Turkey. And let’s not forget, the appeal process can take years. I believe now it is time for the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) to take responsibility and evaluate our individual applications without any further delay. Despite the fact that a verdict has been given in my case, there should be a way out, a solution for all this. Domestic legal recourse is a long-term, rough and bumpy road. That said, I am in prison for 920 days on the day that I wrote this letter: November 18, 2018.
To sum up, the level of pressure on journalism in a country reflects the pressure on a society. This is as precise as a mathematical equation. Besides, it wouldn’t be reasonable to say that there is democracy and freedom in Turkey. While a handful of journalists are still struggling to keep this profession alive, we are very grateful to our European friends who have always shown solidarity with us.
I would like to raise one last point: The status of rights and freedoms in Turkey is heartbreaking, agonizing. I am afraid that neither the European Union (EU) nor the Council of Europe nor the ECtHR react effectively; they just state that “we are concerned” and watch. What makes Europe what it is is the democratic values and the firm attitude for rights and liberties. There should be consistency in this attitude. Yet if these values were stretched for some sort of economic relations or for refugee deals, then this would be riding towards its own fall. Even if the world turns upside down, humanity’s most fundamental values should never be subject to bargain. Therefore it is of utmost importance that these institutions and European societies show solidarity and determination for a resolution.
I would like to send my love, warmest regards and my resilient hopes to our friends in Europe and to the Union of Journalists in Netherlands for providing us with this chance to raise our voice. Your support is our water for life.
November 17, 2018
Van High Security Prison, Turkey