Authorities cancel screening of documentary focusing on victims of Turkey’s post-coup purge

Turkish authorities cancelled the screening of a documentary that shed light on the challenges faced by victims of Turkey’s post-coup purge shortly before it was scheduled to be shown during a film festival in Ankara, the TR724 news website reported.

The screening of the documentary, titled “Kanun Hükmü” (The Decree), which was supposed to be the opening film at the 19th International Labor Film Festival, was cancelled by the Çankaya district governor’s office. A demonstration in solidarity with victims of the post-coup purge was also banned by the district governor. 

Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government initiated a massive purge of state institutions following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016. Over 130,000 civil servants lost their jobs due to suspected ties to “terrorist organizations.” The people who were fired also faced barriers to employment in the private sector and restrictions on obtaining passports.

The documentary focuses on the challenges faced by Yasemin, a doctor, and Engin, a teacher, who lost their civil service jobs under post-coup emergency decrees, known as KHKs, issued by the AKP government.

Director Nejla Demirci said she was very upset authorities had canceled the documentary’s screening. “This is completely unlawful. To criminalize a film is a huge blow to Turkish cinema. This is more than just censorship. It also shows that the authorities are not open to discussing the post-coup purge,” she said. 

The documentary’s cancelation was also criticized by Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a deputy from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (DEM Party). 

In a social media post Gergerlioğlu said the decision to cancel the documentary was completely arbitrary. “People were declared terrorists overnight. Their passports were canceled, and they were socially marginalized. The authorities are afraid that this truth will be outed and discussed among the public,” he said.

The film had sparked controversy immediately after its release in 2023 and was removed from several film festivals. In September the 60-year-old Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival in southern Turkey was abruptly canceled following a controversy surrounding the removal of the documentary. The decision to remove the film had sparked outrage, drawing strong criticism from victims of the purge as well as activists.

In response to the initial removal of “Kanun Hükmü” from the festival’s lineup, 28 producers and directors of other films participating in the festival announced their withdrawal in solidarity with Demirci and her documentary. The festival’s cancelation came after the Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry withdrew its support, accusing the festival organizers of allowing “terrorist propaganda,” with sponsors following suit.

Demirci received the “Sansüre Karşı Direniş” (Resistance Against Censorship) award from the ÇGD in a ceremony held at the Mudanya Montania Hotel in Turkey’s western Bursa province. She dedicated her award to fellow directors who withdrew their films from the Antalya film festival in protest of the festival’s decision to remove her documentary.

The director emphasized that fighting censorship is not something one can do alone and acknowledged the courage of her colleagues who took a stand against censorship by pulling their films from the festival.

Demirci’s documentary has not only received recognition within Turkey but has also garnered international acclaim. In November it received a special mention award at the Festival del Cinema dei Diritti Umani di Napoli in Italy, where it was commended for its portrayal of the courageous struggle of individuals whose lives were affected by the post-coup purge. The festival, organized by the Cinema e Diritti cultural association in Salerno, is an event where documentaries and feature films about human rights are screened.

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