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The notes of a journalist deprived of his freedom

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Art director of the now-closed Zaman daily, Fevzi Yazıcı, was convicted and sentenced to aggravated life in prison in February along with five other journalists on charges of attempting to destroy the constitutional order.

Yazıcı, a Turkish member of the US-based international Society for News Design (SND), sent a letter from his cell in Silivri Prison on the outskirts of İstanbul where he was jailed shortly after a failed coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016. Yazıcı’s letter, which he penned on March 5, was published by the Kronos news website on Friday.

In his letter the journalist, who examined the courtroom where he stood trial with the eye of a designer, complains that the courtrooms are designed to the detriment of the defendants in a way that violates the principle of presumption of innocence and contributes to finding them guilty.

“I have been seeking justice in courtrooms for eight months. As people say, justice is delivered in these courts. Thinking that justice is given to those who deserve it, I am going from one courtroom to another hoping to get my share of it. The only picture I have been able to see in the one-and-a-half years I’ve spent in jail is this: A gray painting that lacks the colors of green, red and blue. The final destination I have reached is those famous, giant courtrooms in the Silivri Prison Complex.

“For four days, my five colleagues and I tried to defend ourselves there. We constantly heard the words “coup, subliminal message, terrorist, connotation and aggravated life sentence” resonating in our ears. Every one of these words fell into our hearts like cannon balls and hurt them, but we were simply helpless.

“Having some hope, we were impatient to tell the facts in whose absence we were forced to live in captivity. Although there seemed nobody listening to us, as the saying goes, walls have ears; perhaps the walls in the courtroom also had ears, who knows? The seats, the courtroom lecterns, the floor may listen to us although those who are required to listen to us don’t.

“I am not sure whether the courtroom is listening to us, but there is so much the courtroom tells us. That giant atmosphere is whispering many things to us with its striking and eye-catching dress. Yet, it is a must to incline one’s ear to hear. Here is what I could hear and even what I could see.

“As seven defendants, we were under a relentless and terrific bombardment and took shelter in the middle of the courtroom.

“Thankfully, despite all the bombardment, the features made me alive and strong. As the eyes of a designer, my eyes were still free and able to catch things. They were constantly looking around the courtroom from one corner to the other and were taking notes. This was a reflex like the beating of a heart, which was spontaneous and unpreventable: to design and to look at what has been designed with a critical eye.

“Although some people make big decisions above, life continues here on the ground. This is what my job requires, to search for beauty and to always talk about it.

“We have nothing to do with guns, artillery and of course with a coup attempt.

“Look at the notes I stored in my memory:

“Against seven defendants, who had pens in their hands, in the courtroom, there were seven armed soldiers. You know security is very important. I did not have the chance to ask them but was curious who they were protecting from whom? I had no idea, maybe they were just part of the decoration.

“Yet, we should not belittle them as being part of the decoration. Definitely, the atmosphere, the colors and even the crowds in the courtroom have an impact on the mood of the defendants. Shouldn’t these be taken into consideration so that the defendants can make their defense in the most accurate and comfortable way? Although this question seems bound to linger in the air, I have just asked it.

“It is very obvious that the courtrooms were designed to not provide a comfortable environment for the defendants to make their defense statements. It is very obvious that all the details were arranged to keep the defendants under pressure. This is exactly what the courtroom and the circumstances there tell us. ‘If the defendants make their defense statements in a comfortable environment, the truth may not come to light and justice may not be served.’ Who knows?

“I don’t know why lawyers are made to sit apart from their clients, which even prevents them from making eye contact with each other. Don’t the clients sit alongside their lawyers in Hollywood movies? What is the problem if someone makes their defense while sitting with their lawyer? Doesn’t the current seating plan tell the defendant ‘because you are guilty’?

“At least this is what the seating plan whispers to me. When listened to carefully, everyone can hear this.

“For four days, I tried to tell my lawyer something, but my efforts were in vain. My lawyer was so far away from me, we could not make eye contact, let alone speak to each other.

“Yes, this is a courtroom and this is called a defense, isn’t it?

“Despite all the shortcomings, every defendant was trying to present their defense when it was their turn. No matter how hard we tried to make our short defenses fit in that giant and flamboyant courtroom, we were not successful. We had to continue our defenses despite the pressure caused by the possibility of an intervention by the judges at any moment or the microphone being turned down.

“Yes, this is a courtroom and this is called a defense, isn’t it?

“To be honest, I would never imagine that criticizing the design of a courtroom could be so interesting. The details I am going to share now can only be noticed if you are sitting in the defendant’s seat, and one can perfectly understand what the cost of bad design can be.

“Please try to imagine it. As a defendant, your place is in the lowest part of the courtroom. Except for you, everyone is on elevated ground. The defense lawyers on the right and even the lawyers for the co-plaintiffs on the left look down on you. Yet, it is possible to ignore their elevated positions. The positions of the judge and the prosecutor on the opposite sides of you are extremely exaggerated. If the defendants are on the ground, they are above the clouds.

“What is missing between the defendants and the panel of judges is a ditch filled with crocodiles!

“The Greek columns on the right and left side of the panel of judges remind me of Mount Olympus. The columns must be part of efforts to attribute super-human traits to those who are trying us.

“To be frank, if I were in the shoes of the judges, sitting in that high place, no matter whose trial I hear, I would label them as “guilty” at the beginning of the trial, hence shorten the process. This is confirmed by the emotions of the defendants on the ground. When I for the first time sat in the chair allocated for a defendant, a voice resonated inside me, saying, ‘Yes, I am guilty.’ This situation was caused by the suggestion and pressure of the design of the courtroom.

“Yes, this is a courtroom and this is called a defense, isn’t it?

“This is just a frame of the big picture of the intricacies of our legal system.

“There are many questions lingering in my brain. ‘Why are judges and prosecutors watching us from the balcony on the second floor of the building? Wouldn’t a few steps away be sufficient to intimidate the defendants?’

“When I turn my gaze to the prosecutors, this is the scene I see: The prosecutor looks through the enemies from a bastion right next to Mount Olympus. The castle he is in is strong and impenetrable in a way that tells the irresponsible detainees to know their place.

“As a defendant even if you speak with courage on the ground, your voice becomes only a weak melody when it reaches those heights. I can never forget those looks. They were like, ‘What are you talking about, we cannot understand you, speak loudly.’

“Moreover, thanks to the design of the courtroom, the allegations of the prosecutor are immediately equated with truth because they are shoulder-to-shoulder with the judges.

“Yes, this is a courtroom and this is called a defense, isn’t it?

“I think it was in the 1990s, when everything was getting its share of the winds of democracy blowing in the country. At one point, there was a debate about an improvement in the design of courtrooms. According to the new arrangements, the prosecutor was also going to sit on the ground, in the desk opposite the defense lawyers just like in the movies. This innovative plan was the subject of long debate. The prosecutor has no superiority over the defense, so why should he sit in a higher position? Is not one’s right to a defense what is actually sacred? I remember an arrangement was going to be made to correct this, but apparently an invisible hand did not like the new plan and everything remained as it was. Then, this issue was suddenly removed from the nation’s agenda. Now everything remains unchanged in the courtrooms.

“As I am a designer, I cannot help but criticize whenever I take a look at the design of something. The design of the courtroom is not right. If your aim is to serve justice, then you should start from the beginning, from the venue where justice is aimed to be served. Don’t you see, the defendants are no different than the gladiators in the Roman era who were prey for lions.

“According to a universal principle of law, everyone is innocent until proven guilty, Then, shouldn’t all defendants be treated according to this principle?

“My last word:

“Your Honor, I have an objection to the design of these courtrooms.”

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