Jailed journalist Alpay: They know we have been wronged

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Şahin Alpay

Dr. Şahin Alpay, one of 280 journalists currently in Turkish prisons, expressed thanks to politicians and local and foreign colleagues who have objected to the unfair arrest and imprisonment of journalists and writers in Turkey, in the first letter he has been able to write from prison, while expressing disappointment with those who have refrained from showing solidarity, the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) reported.

Political scientist and journalist Dr. Alpay was a veteran columnist for the Zaman and Today’s Zaman dailies, which were illegally seized by the government on March 4, 2016 and then closed after a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 under the rule of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Alpay wrote in his letter that “I owe my gratitude to the politicians, local and foreign colleagues who have objected to the unfair arrest and imprisonment of us journalists and writers. I thank them! On the other hand, despite the fact that they know that we are being wronged, I am disappointed with those who refrain from showing such solidarity. But they must know that we have been wronged. That’s enough..”

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 280 journalists and media workers were in jail as of Sept. 30, 2017, most in pre-trial detention. Of those in Turkish prisons, 255 are under arrest pending trial, while 25 journalists are serving out prison sentences. Detention warrants are outstanding for 134 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the coup attempt.

The full text of Şahin Alpay’s letter from Silivri Prison is as follows:

I’m writing this letter with the thought that my friends and readers are wondering about my life in prison. For 14 months we had no right to write or receive letters until we went to court. This is the first one.

First of all, as you have read in my statement given to the court, there is no doubt that I will be acquitted at the end of this case, which seeks three aggravated life sentences plus 15 years’ imprisonment, since there is no guilt. But I do not know how long my imprisonment will continue.

I supported the AKP government as long as it carried the country to the EU; I began to criticize when it went towards a one-man regime. I’m here because I wrote critical articles against the government. In 1982, since I began writing for newspapers, I have not been subject to prosecution for any of my articles or speeches. I had believed that freedom of expression in Turkey is under the assurance of the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. I was wrong.

At the age of 73, a victim of a couple of chronic illnesses in prison for 14 months, far away from my wife, my children, my grandchildren, my relatives and friends, it is not easy to live an isolated life in a 3-man ward. Not easy without knowing how long I’ll be kept here, also. My consolation: Writing and speaking in favor of liberal democracy and the state comes at a price.

My sadness is that although I have taken a stand on the side of democracy and the state of law with all good intentions, this treatment was deemed just and proper for me by the state of which I am a citizen. My sadness is that along with me, tens of thousands of citizens have been imprisoned, fired from their jobs and subjected to unjust treatment. I curse the July 15 coup attempt. Throughout my life, I have been against coups, coup attempts, militarism. If anyone is involved in this coup attempt, they must be punished by means of a fair trial, but those who were not involved in the coup attempt are the victims of an unforeseen injustice in Turkey’s history. Justice must be restored in the country.

I am staying in one of the most modern prisons in Turkey, the high-security section 9 in Silivri Prison, where the people accused of terrorism are imprisoned. I’m with two prisoners I’ve never met before, who never knew each other before. Due to emergency rule (OHAL), I can talk on the phone one hour a week, one hour through a glass pane with only my sister, my wife, my daughter, my son and my grandchildren. Every two months, I can meet them face-to-face for an hour. I was able to meet with my lawyers once a week, for one hour, with a guard and a camera until the first hearing.

Silivri Prison is quite well organized. Lunch and evening meals are served in the wards. We can buy what we want from the canteen. It is possible to visit the infirmary and the doctor; we are able to be prescribed medication. We express our requests to the administration by petition. Most of the prison guards are respectful to me. We are handcuffed when we are taken out of the 9th ward, for instance, to the prison hospital; one or two gendarmes support me by the arms. We can buy authorized newspapers and watch around 25 television channels.

For the first few months, books were prohibited other than those in the prison library, but then it was changed and controlled. The prison library has been enriched with donations made. I can ask for a book from my family. Fortunately, there is no shortage of books.

I try to protect my health by walking 1 hour every day and doing regular gymnastics despite a dozen chronic illnesses and take medicine without fail.

I use the days in jail efficiently. I was very curious about literature in high school, and being a novelist was my dream. Then I got almost bored reading novels. The second time I fell in love with literature in prison. I am improving my shameful deficiencies, but without neglecting philosophy and the social sciences, of course.

Since I have almost forgotten how to write by hand and computers are forbidden, I spend less time writing. Nevertheless, I have made preparations for 6-7 books. If I am freed, I hope to complete them if I live long enough. I know that many of my readers and friends are waiting for my memories. I want to fulfill my promise before dying.

I have come to understand things better in jail. One of these is religion and what it means to be particularly religious. I had understood it theoretically, but now I see it in practice. Religious beliefs are indispensable for mankind in order to cope with the disasters it faces. By living among religious people I also understand that religiosity is as much worship as faith is.

I could see the danger of elitism, namely exclusivity, in terms of democracy and the rule of law, but we are learning while living that populism, that is, flattery of the people, is equally dangerous.

I owe my gratitude to the politicians, local and foreign colleagues who have objected to the unfair arrest and imprisonment of us journalists and writers. I thank them!

On the other hand, despite the fact that they know that we are being wronged, I am disappointed with those who refrain from showing such solidarity.

“But they must know that we have been wronged. That’s enough..

I conclude my letter with the last lines of Turkey’s first liberal thinker Halide Edip Adıvar’s book titled “The Turkish Ordeal,” containing memoirs of the War of Liberation: ‘The thing that is called hürriyet is something that should be regained every day, just like love…’

With my heartfelt love and greetings to you all.

Şahin Alpay (prisoner)

Silivri Closed Penal Institution, 

Section 9 C3 Block, Cell 17, 

October 2017

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