US journalist recounts experiences in Turkish prison

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Lindsey Snell (L) and Serkan Gölge

Lindsey Snell, an American freelance journalist who was detained by Turkish security forces on Aug. 7 as she crossed into Turkey from Syria, accused of having illegally entered a restricted military zone, has recounted her two months in a Turkish prison for The Daily Beast.

Months earlier, while reporting from opposition-held Syria, Snell had been kidnapped by a local al-Qaeda affiliate but managed to escape her captors, fleeing to Turkey where US government helicopters were promised to be waiting to extricate her. Instead, she was detained by Turkish authorities on charges of working for the CIA.

After questioning by a suspicious prosecutor and remanding to prison by an unsympathetic judge, followed by the cursory medical examination by a doctor required of all detainees (“Are you OK?”) she was taken to a high-security prison in Hatay province where she was strip-searched, refused any personal toiletries until she could buy them from the prison canteen and put in a cell by herself.

Snell says her days in prison were “long and depressing” and made even more unbearable by the summer heat. The monotony was broken when she communicated through a window with another American prisoner, NASA physicist Serkan Gölge, who was accused of working for the CIA because police had found a dollar bill in his family’s home.

Turkish authorities had absurdly decided that US dollar bills were used by followers of US-based Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, accused by the government of masterminding a failed coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, as a sort of membership identification among themselves. As a result, a number of US-Turkish dual citizens were incarcerated because they had dollar bills in their wallets or homes.

Gölge was moved from the Hatay facility and is still imprisoned in Turkey, having been refused any contact with US consular staff.

Snell, however, was paid a visit by two women from the US Consulate in Adana, who, while unable to offer her any assistance, asked if she would agree to a debriefing by a US official about her time in captivity in Syria. Incredulous at their audacity to make such a request while at the same time the US government was refusing to help her, “Not a chance” was her response.

Finally, two lawyers and a translator hired by the Committee to Protect Journalists visited Snell in prison, promising to work on her case after speaking with a judge. On Oct. 12, the CPJ announced that she had been released.

“Lindsey Snell’s release is a relief, but scores of journalists are still jailed in Turkey,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We call on Turkish authorities to return Snell’s confiscated equipment, and to free all the journalists still behind bars in the country for doing their jobs.”

Since declaring a state of emergency days after the failed coup on July 15, the Turkish government has shut down 195 newspapers, broadcasters, publishers and distribution companies while imprisoning 145 journalists on trumped-up terrorism charges.

Snell, despite her two-month incarceration, was one of the “lucky” ones, finally released from prison and allowed to return home. Her Afghan-born husband, though, was not so fortunate. He was arrested by Turkish police after they ransacked her apartment in Istanbul. The charge? A few dollar bills were found in a piece of her furniture.

The original series, published in two installments on The Daily Beast website, can be found at http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/11/25/escaped-from-al-qaeda-jailed-in-turkey-my-personal-midnight-express.html and http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/11/26/an-american-in-turkey-s-prisons-in-for-a-crime-no-in-for-a-dollar.html?via=desktop&source=twitter .

 

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