“We had a purpose, to write what has not written, to be the voice of the unheard, and I was put on trial for this,” says Journalist Taşkın, who was in prison for a year.
CANSU PİŞKİN, İSTANBUL
Journalist Seda Taşkın was taken into custody on December 20, 2017 in Muş, where she went to report news while working at the Mesopotamia News Agency, and detained on remand shortly afterwards. Taşkın spent about a year in prison, and subjected to various rights violations both during her pre-trial detention and the criminal proceedings against her.
Taşkın told about the unlawfulness she faced in the custody, pre-trial detention, and court proceedings, as well as the difficulties of being a journalist in Turkey, in the video called “Under Watch: Stories of Judicial Harrasment in Turkey,” which was prepared within the project of Expression Interrupted by P24.
Custody for reporting of a crime
Taşkın, who was taken into custody by being told that “There is a serious crime against you” in Muş where she went to report news, stated that the four-day custody period created a great trauma for her.
I came back to the center after I had report the news in the Varto district of Muş. The weather was very cold that day. I wanted to go and buy a polar fleece jacket so that I wouldn’t get cold. Then, I entered a store. Not five minutes left, undercover police officers got in. They first treated me like I am a suicide bomber. I put my hands up and told that I am a journalist. They came near me and told me to open my bag. Then I gave my bag, they opened the cameras, looked inside, watched all of the videos. Then they said, ‘Get in the cabin, we will do a body search.’ Since there wasn’t a female police officer around and there is no arrest warrant against me, I didn’t accept it. After that they said they will check my criminal record. When I asked why, they said ‘There is a serious crime report against you’. When nothing appeared on my criminal record, they left me. Meanwhile, I had a friend with me. They called my friend from the police office, I don’t remember exactly, but they summoned me to sign something. I said, okay. Every corner around the center was blockaded by the police. Anyway, I was taken into custody immediately when I stepped outside of where I was. After the health control I was taken to the Muş Police Department. There, a police officer, whom I later learned to be the Muş police, came to me and said ‘I will mess with you.’
Forced strip search in the police station
Taşkın, forcibly searched naked in the custody, was subjected to psychological and physical violence:
“Before I was taken into the jail, a female police officer had come and told me that she will make a strip search. I refused, saying it was against the law. Thereupon, 15-20 male police officers entered the room. One of the them said, ‘If you don’t take of your clothes, I swear I will strip you down.’ When I told ‘you can’t do this’, he said ‘Handcuff this behind the back and get it down on the floor’. That moment was really terrifying. I was torn between, I was saying ‘he can’t do it,’ but I saw them starting to walk up to me for real. They clamped me on the wall and attempted to strip me down. And, I had to accept it. After I accepted, it turned into a routine, of course. I do a one minute lawyer consultation, they immediately strip search me.”
“They made me listen to Janissary Anthem in jail”
Taşkın suffered a panic attack as a result of the psychological trauma she experienced when she was in the custody:
“There was an incredible psychological pressure on me. They made me listen to the Janissary Anthem 24/7 for four days without a break. There was always someone coming in front of the jail, everyone was saying something. ‘This is the end for you,’ one says. One comes and sings ‘Hoşçakalın Dostlarım [Goodbye My Friends]’ by Grup Yorum and makes victory sign. Everyone says something and it goes on for days, hours. By the way, I wasn’t using any medication at all. I had a small panic attack there. The ward was so small, I think it was one step to two steps. At one point, I started having shortness of breath. Then, they gave me oxygen when we got to the hospital.”
“Normally, when they took me to the hospital, they took me in an armored vehicle. One day when I said I didn’t want to go in an armored vehicle, a female police officer squeezed my arm, slammed me to the door of the armored vehicle, and threw me in.”
Police pressure against Taşkın, who was taken to the courthouse after the four-day custody period expired, continued here as well:
“I gave a statement to the prosecutor before I appeared in the court. While I was answering the questions in the prosecutor’s room, the chief of police entered in, and aggressively said, ‘There is a confidentiality order, but her lawyer is tweeting.’ And later he called the prosecutor outside. Then, the prosecutor referred me to the court, requesting my pre-trial detention. There was a situation that the police constantly put pressure on us. When I appeared before the court, besides me and my lawyer, there was a lot of anti-terror police in the courtroom. I was released on probation and under a ban on travelling abroad. After the judgement, the chief of police came near, turned to my lawyer, and said ‘Terrorist’s lawyer, I also know who you are, we will meet with you too.’ Then he turned to me, and said, ‘I will not stop going after you.’
She was detained on remand one month after of her release
On January 22, 2018, Taşkın was again taken into custody in a police raid on her house in Ankara, after the prosecutors’ office made an objection to a higher court on December 27, 2017. After her statement was taken by the Bitlis Criminal Peace Judgeship through SEGBİS on January 23, she was detained on remand on charges of “membership of an illegal organization,” and put in prison.
“I went to Ankara the day after my release. In the meantime, I was properly following the requirements of judicial control measures imposed on me and going to sign (regularly reporting to the police station closest to her home) without a delay. In Ankara, there was an operation of social media against the journalists. During the raid on the house of my journalist friend, my criminal record was also checked, and they told that the Bitlis Court issued an arrest warrant against me. So I was taken into custody again. This time, there were a lot of journalist friends and human rights defenders where I was held. I stayed with them. It was more reassuring. Because, when I was taken into custody again I was afraid that it would be as the one in Muş. After a day-long custody, the next day, I was connected to Bitlis through SEGBİS from the Ankara Court. The judge didn’t listen to me at all, didn’t ask anything but said, ‘detention under the suspicion that she might flee and spoil evidence’. Since I was released, I had fulfilled all the requirements of judicial control measures, put my signature, I put my signature even on the day I was taken into custody.”
The news she did not report was also considered a crime
Had not knowing what she was accused of for a long time due to the confidentiality order in her file, Taşkın learned that the charges against her were related to her journalism activities when the indictment was filed.
“For a long time, I couldn’t get a complete idea of my case. Later, I learned that I was accused because of my posts on the journalists’ day, the photos I had taken, and the news I did not report. I was preparing a report called “Women in the State of Emergency”. M plan was to report about the women’s institutions that were closed down. But then, for certain reasons, I couldn’t report that news. They also put the news that I couldn’t make in my case file. My social media posts were also included in my file as evidence. I posted for Raqqa. I shared the posts of a journalist friend. That friend was tried and acquitted in Antep, but I was convicted in the case s/he was acquitted.”
“I waited for 3 months for the court to confirm my name”
Taşkın explains that her family has called her as Seda since her childhood, but the prosecutor considered this name as a “code name” and asked for her conviction for “membership of an illegal organization” and adds:
“Finding it out was very easy. I offered a method, I told them to go find my elementary school teachers, my childhood friends, and ask them. For three hearings, I waited for the police just to confirm my name. Three months. It was so simple but it was postponed for various reasons.”
Taşkın says that the dates of the hearing are also “containing a message”: “I don't remember the date of my first hearing, but it was April. Then, the dates respectively continued as July 2, September 12, October 10, and so on. They were really sending a message in everything. ‘Are you the one, who reports these news?’ The hearings were held on the days we conceive as wounds on purpose.”
Continuing journalism in prison
Expressing that she decided to continue her profession in the first weeks of her imprisonment, Taşkın states that a constraint on space is not an obstacle for a journalist to do her/his job:
“In fact, nowadays in Turkey, a country where various rights violations take place, journalists in prison becomes a great need. Because there are so many topics to write. If there is a human being, if there is a living thing, if there is a story, there is always something to write for us.”
Taşkın narrates the first news she reported from prison with the following words:
“When I went to prison, we were going to take a shower; however, the water was in the color of blood. Completely rusty. Then I report news about it. After the news came out, I saw it on the headline in the newspaper that came to the ward. I was very happy. After that, everything happened so fast. The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey came, MPs came. This issue grew rapidly. The warden of the prison said to me that ‘you won’t make news’. I answered that I am here because I am a journalist and I will do it here too.”
Taşkın explains that her release also occurred in an interesting way:
“The local court sentenced me to seven and a half years imprisonment in the final hearing. I was convicted for successive propaganda and aiding and abetting. I was not expecting my release in any way. Then, MPs from the CHP (Republican People’s Party, HDP (People’s Democratic Party), and MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) came for the news about the water, and there were meetings with them. After they left, the ward was searched. Later, the guards called me and said “you are released from prison, be ready in half an hour.” I was released by interim decision, after the decision of court of appeals. They wanted to get me out as soon as possible, because they didn’t want me to repot news from inside. Within twenty minutes, I was released from prison, thrown in front of the door. Then I stood by the door. That shock effect didn’t pass for minutes. Someone approached me and asked, “Are you okay, do you need anything?” I said, I want to make a phone call. I called my family, they learned it from me. In an instant, in a hurry. One minute, you are inside, the next you are outside. Journalism in Turkey means the gap between where you wake up in the morning and where you close your eyes. You are experiencing something else in the morning and something else in the evening. That day was also like that.”
Her job applications were rejected
Taşkın, who continued her career as a freelance journalist after her release from prison, summarizes the difficulties she faced as follows:
“I applied for a job in one or two places, but I couldn’t pass the security investigations. I went in and out of prison, we all already know why I was in and out of prison, because we went after the facts, because we have a cause… We had a purpose, to write what has not written, to be the voice of the unheard, and I was put on trial for this. For example, I heard this saying: ‘You got out of prison, get rid of the perception about you. Then work with us’. So it means okay, the system doesn’t see you as a journalist anyway. If you are not on the side of the system, you are not a journalist. But there is also the other side of the coin. It is really sad that even people whom we say we are looking at world from the same side and that we think we are standing in the same place are approaching from this point.”