by Nurcan Baysal
I am in shock as I read the words of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan regarding Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.
As a Kurdish human rights defender and journalist from Turkey, I have written about human rights violations, minority rights, war crimes and the Kurdish issue since 2013. When the peace process between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party collapsed in July 2015, fighting broke in Kurdish cities. This time the fighting was in the city centres, a marked departure from the characteristic clashes in the mountains of the past 30 years. In August 2015, the state declared curfews in Kurdish cities across southeastern Turkey and they continue today. Nearly 1.5 million people have been affected by the curfews.
During the military curfews, our cities were under bombardment each and every single day. The state did not even allow families to bury their dead. In some curfew areas, people carrying white flags trying to leave the area or bury relatives were shot. In Diyarbakır, dead bodies remained in the streets for months. We witnessed terrible human rights violations and war crimes.
The Turkish media have closed their eyes to the ongoing war and human rights violations in the Kurdish region so I found myself compelled to write and took an active role in informing the public.
I have been systematically threatened and harassed, intimidated on social media and security forces have unlawfully banned some of my articles. There have been investigations opened against me because of my articles and social media posts.
In February of this year, I received a 10-month prison sentence for an article about war crimes in the city of Cizre. When the curfew in Cizre was lifted in March of 2016, I went and bore witness to the many war crimes committed by security forces. The city was demolished. Hundreds of people were burnt alive in the basements. I came across horribly discussing scenes inside the houses used by security forces. Women’s underwear was on display and there were used condoms thrown around randomly. I took around 100 pictures and wrote about these things in my column. It created huge backlash. A week later, my article was censored by the General Management of the Turkish Security Office. After two years, the court gave me a 10-month prison sentence for “humiliating the Turkish security forces”, but ruled to suspend the sentence for five years.
On Jan. 21 this year, days after the Turkish offensive in on the Syrian district of Afrin was launched, I was detained due to my social media posts against the war. The police knocked down my door, a home where they knew there were two small children inside. Approximately 20 special operation police officers, armed with Kalashnikovs and other weapons stormed our home. After being held in a detention centre for three days, I was released and a court case was opened against me. Because of five Tweets in which I criticized the Turkish government’s war policies and demanded peace, I was accused of “inciting people to hatred and enmity”. The prosecutor is now demanding three years imprisonment for my five Tweets about peace.
I am one of the lucky journalists in Turkey. I am still not in jail and I can write. But hundreds of our friends are in prison or in exile. There are more than 170 journalists in Turkish prisons today. Nedim Türfent, an imprisoned Kurdish journalist was sentenced to eight years and five months in prison, although witnesses for the prosecution said in court they had testified against the journalist as a result of torture. Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak were given life sentences by the Turkish court because of their journalistic work. There is Musa Anter, a Kurdish journalist and writer, who was assassinated by members of the deep state in Turkey in 1992 at the age of 72. Metin Göktepe, a young Turkish journalist was beaten to death by police in a detention centre in 1996. The perpetrators have still not been brought to justice.
I too, want justice for Khashoggi, but to publish the opinion of someone who locks journalists behind bars is unacceptable. Turkey remains the world’s leading jailer of journalists and is one of the last states that can talk about human rights and justice for journalists. As Erdoğan wrote in his article, “the killing of Khashoggi is inexplicable”. Yes, the killing of Khashoggi is inexplicable and unacceptable, like the killing and imprisonment of journalists in Turkey.
As journalists in Turkey, we expect some recognition from The Washington Post, as many of our friends and colleagues are behind bars or in exile. Shame on you!
I write this, knowing there could be consequences for my words. I know that as a Kurdish human rights defender and journalist, I am not as important as Khashoggi. I hope that you, The Washington Post will also ask about my fate and about the fate of other journalists in Turkey and Kurdistan who are being declared as terrorists for standing on the side of truth, who are being killed, imprisoned and forced to leave their country.