Being treated like a leper 

19 December 2018
-

by Murat Aksoy

My trial and the sentence that was given to me, in the end, will always cause me to be seen by society as someone with leprosy. What hurts me the most is being treated as a leper not only by a distant circle but also those that are close to me

While transcribing my notes that I wrote in prison, I noticed that in August 2017, at a time when I was hopeful that I would be released, I wrote the following:

“Really? Will I keep writing when I am out? Will I make a living by writing? More importantly, will I find an outlet where I can write? And on the other hand, wasn’t I imprisoned and made a political captive here in Silivri prison over what I wrote and said? If I quit writing, doesn’t it mean that I have acted with fear, that I have been intimidated? Or…

Just thinking out loud.

Still, I doubt I will find enough outlets that will keep me live on writing even if I wanted to do so. Because, even if I am released, I will always be “undesirable”, “labeled” and will always live a life of “unease.”

Life...

We will see it all as we live through it.”

I was not released in July or August but in late October. 

While submitting an opinion in favor of my release, the prosecutor claimed that the “classification of the accusation might change” and the panel of judges approved it, ruling for my release. 

I was standing on trial on charges of “membership of a terrorist organization.” A change in the classification of the accusation in this case might have meant either that it would be changed into the one-notch lesser crime of “propaganda for a terrorist organization”, or something even lesser, which could lead to my acquittal. 

In reality though, an acquittal was theoretically impossible after a 14-month stay in jail. And accordingly,  an appeals court upheld my conviction on charges of “propaganda for a terrorist organization”, but changed the punishment to a one-year and 13-month conviction, which was handed down by the lower court as a sentence of two years and one month. 

When I was released on Oct. 24, 2017, a sword was hanging over my head, with a note on it reading “classification of the offense may change.” I had to consider that sword in every step I take. 

On the other hand, now was the time to return to reality. The spontaneous moral and material solidarity that emerged while I was arrested gradually declined and naturally died off after my release. At this point, I inevitably had to find a job not to rely on anyone.

But without forgetting the sword above my head, of course.

Therefore, I initially started seeking non-media jobs. I was interviewed by some advertising agencies but my applications were kindly rejected for various reasons. One of them cited my lack of practical experience in this specific field, while others said I was “too well-known” or “overqualified.” This stint lasted a few months before the end of 2017.

Ending my search for a non-media job, I inevitably looked for getting back to the grindstone. At this point, I have to admit that I actually wanted to go back to the media and begin writing as soon as I was released. Because I had things to tell.

I wanted to keep writing because during the trial I had defended myself saying that my verbal expressions and articles were journalistic activities and should be considered within the scope of intellectual freedom and free speech.

Quoting my former articles and speeches, I had defended myself arguing that my articles and statements did not constitute a crime; were not written under orders of an organization or to help any group achieve its targets - which formed the basis of the accusations against me - and that every article I wrote possessed an internal ideological consistency rather than being creations dictated by the circumstances of a given time period.

I never believed that I committed any crime via writing or speaking and I argued as such during the trial.

Quitting writing and speaking -silencing my pen and my tongue- at this point would mean that those who imprisoned me will effectively have achieved their goal.

I wanted to continue to write after being released only for this reason. But the sword above my head was always on my mind. Thus, I postponed writing and speaking for some time.

That period was limited to the final phase of the trial. When that date neared, I started writing and speaking again.

I did not write or speak until that time because we live in a country where the written word or just one spoken word during the trial could be used against me in court. To be honest, I always feared that.

In the last phase of the trial, I started looking for a job again. I preferred some “newsroom job” in the media instead of positions in the foreground such as writing articles or hosting TV shows. It was better not to be in the spotlight at such a time. Still, I knew that it would not be easy to find a job in this field.

There were two reasons for that:

First, there were only a few outlets that I could work for. The second reason was the ongoing trial.

I’d like to start with the first one. The change in the media industry in recent years had increased government influence over the sector to an unlimited extent. The government was now controlling some 90 to 95 percent of the media. The remaining five percent had the common property of  being “in opposition.” These amounted to only a handful of few newspapers, news websites, and TV stations. Their tones varied but they were all oppositional. The places I could possibly work for was in this 5-percent slice. 

Of course, the economic conditions of these media businesses that constitute the 5 percent were another problem. With a few exceptions, their financial structures were based on solidarity; volunteering or semi-professionalism.

In time, I witnessed that the second reason, my ongoing trial, also made it more difficult for me to find a job in this five percent. 

A few outlets that I applied for in this period – which included the ones that I used to write for and where I thought I had friends – rejected me probably because of the trial. At this point, it was interesting that I had to push them even to get a negative response. The rejections would come only after several reminders. And of course, there were some “polite” managers who even did not bother to show the courtesy of responding. 

That hurt me the most.

This is quite understandable: It is understandable to avoid a corporate risk by hiring me because of the trial and the charges I was facing; regardless of their trust in me. But all that matters is expressing this open heartedly. But what about even not responding and ignoring?

Those who talk really big today when it comes to freedoms had turned me into a leper by not responding to my job applications.

I did look for full-time jobs outside the media. But the response I got there was usually that my prospective employers wouldn’t be comfortable hiring me at such a “low salary”. a well-meaning approach. 

Basically, I could not find a job due to  “various” features of mine that were attributed to me independently of me. This was not because I was not capable of doing the work but a gap with my potential co-workers that would derive from my recognition.

In short, I was doomed to “hunger” instead of a “low salary.”

All these were external conditions that I would not be able to change. And there stood an additional condition, that sword hanging above my head. I felt its existence and heard the sound it made in every swing at least until the trial was over.

Actually, there were some job offers on the first days or in weeks after my release.  But they were all offers to write columns. At that point, the additional condition that I expressed above came into play: the trial. Thus, I rejected these offers during the trial process.

The responses I got to my job applications –and the absence of them - in the final phase of the trial reminded me of my own reality: I had to write. It was not because I was a good writer but the fact that writing was accepted as an inseparable part of my existence, particularly during the trial process.

Eventually, shortly before the end of the trial, I accepted an offer that came on the first days of my release to write for an online newspaper twice a week. My sole intention in accepting it was making a living for my family. 

But the overall stance I faced in my adventure to seek a job in the media business after my release, including the positions in the “kitchen,” reminded me of “leprosy” that I mentioned above. Because, according to some circles, I was infected during this process and I believe I will remain so from now on. And it is not just me. The reason behind it is the sanction power of the state. Institutions should be afraid of that power.

The history of leprosy dates back to 2000s B.C. It was one of the most feared illnesses until the 20th century when it became treatable. This illness was perceived as a “divine punishment” through history because of the damage it makes on the outlook of its victims and people with leprosy were ostracized from society. In the Middle Ages, sick people were quarantined in some regions, out of the belief that the disease was contagious.

This is how the “trial” we faced and the “sentence” we received will always make me a leper in the eyes of certain circles for the rest of my life.

What hurts me the most is being treated as a leper not only by a distant circle but also those that are close to me.

This article was published as part of “Stories of Justice,” a project supported by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.