Expression Interrupted

Journalists and academics bear the brunt of the massive crackdown on freedom of expression in Turkey. Scores of them are currently subject to criminal investigations or behind bars. This website is dedicated to tracking the legal process against them.

Şahin Alpay's letter from Silivri: That thing called freedom

Şahin Alpay's letter from Silivri: That thing called freedom

I feel hurt by those who, despite knowing that we have been wronged, refrained from showing solidarity

I am writing this letter thinking that my friends and readers might be wondering about my life in prison. We had no right to send or receive letters until our first day in court, after 14 months behind bars. This is my first opportunity.

So first things first: As you may have read in my defense statement to the court, I don’t have a shred of doubt that I will be acquitted at the end of this trial, where I face three aggravated life sentences and an additional prison term of up to 15 years. I have committed no crime. But I don’t know how long my imprisonment will continue. I supported the AKP government as long as it led the country closer to the EU; I began to criticize it when it headed towards authoritarianism. I am here because I wrote articles critical of the government. Not a single article that I penned since I first started writing for newspapers in 1982 has been subject to prosecution. I had believed that freedom of expression was guaranteed under the Constitution and the European Convention of Human Rights. I was wrong.

As a 73-year-old struggling with several chronic illnesses, it is not easy to be in prison for 14 months; to live in isolation in a three-person cell away from my wife, children, grandchildren, loved ones and friends. Neither is not knowing how much longer I will be held here. My consolation is that there is a price for writing and speaking in support of liberal democracy and the rule of law. My sadness is that the state, the one which I am a citizen of, treated me the way it did despite my sincere well-intentioned support for democracy and the rule of law. My sadness is that tens of thousands of citizens, along with me, were imprisoned, fired from their jobs and victimized in ways they never deserved. I condemn the 15 July coup attempt. I have been against coups, coup attempts and military tutelage throughout my life. Let whoever involved in this coup attempt be tried and punished with due process of law; but persecution of those who have nothing to do with the coup attempt is an injustice unprecedented in the history of Turkey. Justice in this country must be restored.

I am staying in the high-security 9th Section of the Silivri Prison -- one of Turkey’s most modern prisons -- where those charged with terrorism are held. I am with two inmates whom I had never met before and who had not met each other before. Due to the State of Emergency (OHAL) regulations, I am able to speak only to my sister, wife, daughter, son and grandchildren, for an hour once a week, through a glass window and by the phone. I can see them face to face for an hour every two months. Until my first court hearing, I was allowed to meet with my lawyers for an hour once a week, in the presence of a prison officer and in front of a camera.

Silivri is a well-organized prison. Lunches and dinners are delivered to our cells. We can order provisions from the prison shop to be delivered to our cell as well. We can, to the extent possible within limited means, visit doctors and the infirmary and get prescription medicine. We make requests from the prison administration by submitting petitions. Most of the prison guards respect my age and experience. When we are taken outside the 9th Section, say to a hospital, we are handcuffed and escorted by one or two gendarmerie officers taking us by arm. We can buy the permitted newspapers, we can watch about 25 television channels.

In the first months, we were not allowed to receive books other than those in the prison library, but it was gradually liberalized over time. Thanks to donations, the prison library has become significantly richer. I can also ask my family for books. Thankfully, access to books is no longer a problem.

I have been trying to stay healthy, despite the series of chronic illnesses I suffer, by walking for an hour every day, exercising regularly and taking my medication religiously.

I have been making good use of my days in prison. I was very much interested in literature until my high school years; it was my dream to be a novelist then. Later, however, reading novels became almost boring for me. In prison, I am falling in love with literature for the second time. I am making up for my embarrassing deficiencies -- without neglecting philosophy and social sciences, of course.

As I have almost forgotten how to write by hand and with computers not allowed, I can now spare less time for writing. Still, I have been able to make preparations for six or seven books. If I am released, if my life permits, I am hoping to complete them. I know many friends and readers are waiting for my memoirs. I very much wish to keep my promise before I die.

I have come to understand certain things better while in prison. One of them is what religion, and, in particular, religiosity mean. Before, I did understand it theoretically, but now I see it in practice, too. Religious beliefs are indispensable for human beings to cope with the disasters that come their way. By living amongst devout people, I now see it more clearly that religiosity is as much about worshipping as it is about belief.

I was able to see the dangers of elitism for democracy and the rule of law, but we are learning by living that populism, i.e., sycophancy towards the masses, is equally dangerous.

I am grateful to politicians and to Turkish and foreign colleagues who rejected and spoke out against the unjust arrest and incarceration of us the journalists and writers and showed solidarity with us. I thank them! On the other hand, I feel hurt by those who, despite knowing that we were wronged, have refrained from showing solidarity. But so long as they know we were wronged, it is enough.

I conclude my letter with the final lines of the book “Türkün Ateşle İmtihanı” (The Turkish Ordeal), the Independence War memoirs of Halide Edip Adıvar, one of the first liberal thinkers of Turkey: “For freedom, we know, is a thing that we have to conquer afresh for ourselves every day, like love…”

With my warmest love and regards.

Şahin Alpay (Detainee)

Silivri Prison, 9th Section, C3 BLOCK – ROOM 17

October 2017