800 days behind bars: Nedim Türfent in Van Prison

lake van
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons, by user myararat83)

 

Nedim Türfent was sentenced to nine years in prison for documenting a racist assault of Special Operations police on Kurdish civilians. This article was published by Taz.gazete in German and Turkish on July 20, to mark his 800th day of imprisonment  

TAZ GAZETE, BARIŞ ALTINTAŞ, 2018-07-20

Traveling through Van is quite a metaphysical experience. Its imposing mountains, which always remain quiet travel companions, are of breathtaking beauty. A thousand different hues color the waters of Lake Van, from black to green, from turquoise to white, adding to the eerie yet spectacular allure of the area.  

When you switch off the engine in the parking lot of the Van High-Security Penitentiary, it is as if you have suddenly landed on another planet. With its ugly yellow-painted walls, the edifice looks like a depressing mass-housing project; standing in the middle of the soothing silence of Van’s nature and in complete contrast to it. 

Behind the walls of this detention center is journalist Nedim Türfent, cut off for 800 days from the stunning beauty of Lake Van. The journalist had published a video in which a Special Operations officer in Yüksekova, a province on the southeastern Turkish border with Syria, can be seen abusing Kurdish civilians lying on the floor, yelling racist remarks at them. He was detained on May 12, 2016 and sentenced to eight years and nine months in prison on Dec. 15, 2017 on charges of “membership in a terrorist organization.”


Eight years, 9 months.

3,196 days.

An investigation was launched against the members of the Special Operations unit identified in the video. Following his exposé, the journalist received threats from anonymous individuals on social media as well as from police officers. During his detention, he was physically abused by police officers. He was sentenced after a very speedy trial, highly unusual for Turkey’s usually sluggish court system. 

In the hearings, witnesses who had testified against him retracted statements, saying they had been submitted under torture. The court didn’t care. The only "evidence" of his “terrorism” were his social media posts, his news reports and testimonies from witnesses which testifiers themselves had denied. Yet, he was sentenced to eight years and nine months in prison.

Türfent's lawyers Veysel Ok and Barış Oflas point to numerous human rights violations in his detention and trial processes. Testimonies were extracted under torture, the trial took place in his absence in Hakkari, while Türfent was imprisoned in Van; about 200 kilometers away from the courtroom. He was never physically brought to the courtroom and was denied even a video-link connection in most of the hearings. In prison, he was kept in solitary confinement for months. 

Little hope for acquittal

His lawyers recently submitted an appeal to the Constitutional Court, in spite of the fact that normally they should wait for an outcome from the appellate court. Lawyer Veysel Ok said, “Normally both the European Court of Human Rights and the Constitutional Court of Turkey have strict rules about the prior exhaustion of available legal remedies. The appeals court has not examined Nedim’s application for months. We have no hope from the appeals court and even if we did, we believe the Constitutional Court should still review Nedim’s case as his detention as a journalist is a violation of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”
 
While his lawyers do all they can outside Nedim Türfent continues to be a prolific writer "inside." He spends his days with poetry, literature and reading.
"I try to make use of my time in prison, and I try to make this period as colorful and alive to the extent that is possible. To do this, I put words together here and there,” he wrote in a recent letter written to colleagues.  

Poetry from prison

Türfent says the enormous level of solidarity that has been shown for him has reached him from behind the prison walls. Saying that he won’t dare call what he writes “poetry,” Türfent notes that the solidarity has given him the strength to write poetry. 

In order for his voice and verses to be heard by the world on the 800th day of his imprisonment, we are publishing an excerpt from a recent poem he has written:


Your heart has become the earth 
 let it give elixir into the veins
bring fertility to the soil
from the springs behind the mountain Qaf.

let the benevolence of the crops
be the silver key to life.

let your heart soothe 
the farmer 
the peasant
the day laborer
the distressed

 

let it massage the broken wings of birds
with ointments

let it grant refuge
to the ants, working collectively, in solidarity 

let heart fill with generosity
giving butterflies an extra day of life

let it be a lifeline
like the womb
 
let your heart be crystal clear
as clear as water
let it give life to the lifeless.