In an impassioned letter to Turkish Minute, visually impaired journalist Cüneyt Arat explains how after championing the rights of the disabled and writing on their behalf in various publications, he was falsely accused of promoting a “terrorist” organization, detained, interrogated, abused and finally put under house arrest in Adana. Despite everything that befell him, Arat says he will never give up and that a free press cannot be silenced.
This is his story:
“My name is Cüneyt Arat. I am a visually handicapped journalist from Turkey.
“I was born in Narlidere, Izmir, on Jan. 1, 1995. I started my primary education at Adana Oğuz Kağan Köksal School for the Visually Handicapped. I completed secondary school at Adana Yuregir Atatürk High School.
“Since I was 14, I have been voluntarily serving disabled and poor people in society. My only aim is to contribute to the creation of a ‘Turkey without barriers’ for the handicapped and eliminating obstacles in the bureaucracy.
“I just tried to be a little ‘cure’ for disabled people’s problems. And I only wanted ‘prayers’ in return.
“I visited many political figures and leaders from all political parties in order to optimize the rights of disabled people. Many of them praised my efforts and said they were proud of me and those efforts.
“The president, the prime minister and various ministers praised me many times. I had a dream of creating a world without barriers for the disabled.
“I started working as a volunteer journalist when I was 18. I was a critic of the AKP government during the Dec. 17/25 [corruption] operations.
“I didn’t demand a single penny for my articles in local papers.
“However, because of pressure from AKP management, I was no longer allowed to write in local Adana papers.
“Later on, I met journalist Ünal Tanık, owner of rotahaber.com, and started to write for the rotahaber.com news portal.
“Then, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sued me several times, one lawsuit after another…
“I always did my best to maintain my objectivity as a journalist. After the July 15 coup attempt, rotahaber.com was shut down by the government, and it hurt me deeply. There was no longer a place to make myself heard.
“On June 15, four police officers from Smuggling and Organized Crimes Department detained me at my house in Adana. I was charged with ‘praising members of the Gülen movement and disseminating propaganda for the movement.’ After my interrogation, I was released by a prosecutor’s order.
“Prosecutor Atilla Rahmi wrote the official indictment about me on June 30. On July 20, at around noon, eight police officers from ‘terrorism’ branch of the Adana Police Department detained me and took me to a detention center after a health check. There were many others in detention, such as former Adana Chief of Police Mehmet Avcı and other former police chiefs. They supported me in detention. They helped me eat and prepared my bed and helped me get dressed.
“My testimony was taken at midnight on July 20. I was charged with praising Fethullah Gülen in my articles and tweets. In addition, I was not allowed to use the disabled bathroom or meet with my family on July 20.
“The same day, other detainees — police chiefs, officers, soldiers, etc. — were taken to the forensic medial center for health reports, but not me.
“I was taken to the forensic medical center the very next day, before I was taken to the prosecutor’s office. Prosecutor M. Şirin Acar said they found out that I had written articles and tweets praising Fethullah Gülen, who is the leader of FETÖ.
“I said no organization can be designated a terrorist organization without a decision from the supreme court.
“And I said I never supported the movement financially.. that I never joined their meetings or organizations and that I was not a subscriber to any of their media outlets. And finally I said I demand my release.
“Prosecutor Acar sent me to the court on duty and demanded my release under judicial supervision.
“The judge told me that I had written articles praising Gülen, the leader of FETÖ.
“And I said I condemn those who took part in the coup attempt. And that Gülen could not be blamed since there was no evidence or court decision as of then.
“Besides, I said those who bombed Parliament, the presidential palace and other buildings should be severely punished.
“When the judge announced his decision of “house arrest,” I was deeply shocked. I said, ‘It’s not ethical to put an electronic bracelet on my ankle,’ but the judge didn’t care what I said.
“Then I went home and police officers came and put the electronic bracelet on my ankle, which is still there today.
“Even though I am visually handicapped, I was always present and on time in court whenever I had a hearing.
“Lawyers from the bar association objected to the decision, but the objection was rejected.
“They confiscated my phone, especially programmed for me, and they didn’t give it back.
“Since this electronic bracelet was placed on my ankle, I have been psychologically down. I cannot eat properly. Every night I have nightmares about the police.
“The Adana Police Department has searched my house three times since July 15. My educational life is being restrained.
“Prosecutor Acar is deliberately not drafting my indictment for three months.
“While they could simply ask me to go and sign in at the police station under judicial supervision, they keep me a prisoner in my own house instead.
“I did not flee my country. There is nothing that I cannot explain.
“I do not have any personal property that the government can confiscate.
“As of now, the Turkish government should never mention the importance of justice and the independence of the judiciary.
“I wrote emails to President R. Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ and Minister of Internal Affairs Süleyman Soylu explaining my situation.
“I am deeply hurt because I am probably one of the few, if not the only, visually handicapped people under house arrest in Turkey and in the world.
“I demand from the officials that my personal phone be returned to me.
“During the state of emergency, many disabled people have been sacked from public service jobs. They are just charged with being members of a legal union – Aktifsen — and having accounts in a legal bank – Bank Asya.
“I hope they will return to their jobs soon.
“I believe it is immoral to keep a visually impaired journalist under house arrest with an electronic bracelet. I ask politicians, artists and journalists to be my voice. There is no way for me to betray my country, which educated me for 12 years in boarding schools and gave me everything I needed.
“Nothing can kill my love for my country. If I had been a part of the coup attempt, I would be ready to be punished.
“Those who lost their conscience
Those whose hearts turned to stone
Those who worship titles and money
Can never understand love of country.
I am neither angry nor heartbroken by anyone.
“Those who did not dare to handcuff me
Placed the cuff on my ankle.
I will never retreat.
I will keep telling – even shouting — the truth.
“Those who jailed me at home
Those who made me live under arrest
Those who torture me as if I were a terrorist
Should remember that I will stand against them on Judgment Day and complain about them to GOD.
Pressure and torture will never make me retreat.
Free press cannot be silenced!
90 percent visually impaired journalist
I am living in Seyhan, Adana.
“E-mail: [email protected] “