A letter written by Marina Nemat, a Canadian rights activist, writer and chair of the Oslo-based Vigdis Freedom Foundation (VFF) to Turkish journalist Ayşenur Parıldak, who is serving a seven-and-a-half-year prison sentence on charges of membership in a “terrorist” organization, was released by the foundation on Friday.
“Please know that we love you, think of you, and do our best to make sure the world knows you. You are not alone. Don’t let darkness steal away all light from you. I pray and hope that your light overcomes. Take care of yourself,” Nemat said in the letter.
VFF is a “woman-to-woman solidarity” group that promises “legal support and counsel to women human rights defenders who have been wrongfully accused and imprisoned and are therefore prisoners of conscience.”
The VFF gave journalist Parıldak its inaugural Shahnoush Courage Award in September 2017.
Parıldak, also a law student at Ankara University’s faculty of law, was detained while taking exams on Aug. 11, 2016. She was released by the court on May 2, 2017 but was later rearrested by the same court before being freed after a prosecutor objected to the initial ruling.
During her trial, she told the judges that she had thought of committing suicide several times while in prison. Behind bars since the summer of 2016, Parıldak faces 15 years in jail under Turkey’s broad anti-terror laws based on her tweets and alleged use of the ByLock mobile phone messaging application, believed by Turkish authorities to be a communication tool among alleged followers of the Gülen movement, which is accused by the government of orchestrating a failed coup on July 15, 2016.
The group denies any involvement in the putsch.
Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 2016. On December 13, 2017 the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.
Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on April 18, 2018 that the Turkish government had jailed 77,081 people between July 15, 2016 and April 11, 2018 over alleged links to the Gülen movement.
The full text of Nemat’s letter:
“Dear Aysenur Parıldak;
You don’t know me, but I’ve heard a lot about you. My name is Marina Nemat. I live in Canada now, but I was born in Iran in 1965 and spent 2 years, 2 months, and 12 days as a political prisoner when I was a high school student. I now teach at University of Toronto and work with a few human rights organizations. One of them is the Vigdis Freedom Foundation that gave you the Shahnoush Award last year, in 2017. This award is named after a friend of mine who was executed in Evin prison in Tehran in 1981. But I survived, and so did many of my cellmates. Now, we live all over the world and work to make sure that the world knows the terrible things that happened and are still happening in prisons in Iran and other countries.
I want you to know that you are not forgotten. When I was in prison, it felt like the world had forgotten my friends and me, and this thought sometimes made us lose hope. People ask me how I survived Evin. I tell them that I survived because of my friends who gave me hope; they made sure that I knew I was loved, despite all the darkness and evil in the world.
Please know that we love you, think of you, and do our best to make sure the world knows you. You are not alone. Don’t let darkness steal away all light from you. I pray and hope that your light overcomes. Take care of yourself.
Board Member, Vigdis Freedom Foundation”
(Stockholm Center for Freedom [SCF] with Turkish Minute)