“Please know that we love you, think of you, and do our best to make sure the world knows you. You are not alone. Don’t let darkness steal away all light from you. I pray and hope that your light overcomes,” said a letter penned by Marina Nemat, a Canadian rights activist, writer and chair of the Oslo-based Vigdis Freedom Foundation (VFF).
The letter written by Nemat to 27-year-old Turkish journalist Ayşenur Parıldak, who was sentenced in November 2017 to seven years, six months in prison on charges of membership in a “terrorist organization,” was released by the VFF on June 15.
VFF is a “woman-to-woman solidarity” group that promises “legal support and counsel to women human rights defenders who have been wrongfully accused and imprisoned and are therefore prisoners of conscience.”
The Oslo-based VFF also gave journalist Parıldak its inaugural Shahnoush Courage Award in September 2017.
Parıldak, also a law student at Ankara University’s faculty of law, was detained while taking exams on Aug. 11, 2016. She was released by the court on May 2, 2017 but was later rearrested by the same court before being freed after a prosecutor objected to the initial ruling.
During her trial, she told the judges that she had thought of committing suicide several times while in prison. Behind bars since the summer of 2016, Parıldak faces 15 years in jail under Turkey’s broad anti-terror laws based on her tweets and alleged use of the ByLock mobile phone messaging application.
Turkish authorities believe ByLock is a communication tool among alleged followers of the Gülen movement. Tens of thousands of people, including civil servants, police officers, soldiers, businessmen and even housewives, have either been dismissed or arrested for using ByLock since a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016.
Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). If Turkey falls two more places, it will make it to the list of countries on the blacklist, which have the poorest record in press freedom.
Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 242 journalists and media workers were in jail as of June 3, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 182 were under arrest pending trial while only 60 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 142 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.
Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down some 200 media outlets, including Kurdish news agencies and newspapers, after a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.
What follows is the full text of Nemat’s letter:
“Dear Aysenur Parıldak;
You don’t know me, but I’ve heard a lot about you. My name is Marina Nemat. I live in Canada now, but I was born in Iran in 1965 and spent 2 years, 2 months, and 12 days as a political prisoner when I was a high school student. I now teach at University of Toronto and work with a few human rights organizations. One of them is the Vigdis Freedom Foundation that gave you the Shahnoush Award last year, in 2017. This award is named after a friend of mine who was executed in Evin prison in Tehran in 1981. But I survived, and so did many of my cellmates. Now, we live all over the world and work to make sure that the world knows the terrible things that happened and are still happening in prisons in Iran and other countries.
I want you to know that you are not forgotten. When I was in prison, it felt like the world had forgotten my friends and me, and this thought sometimes made us lose hope. People ask me how I survived Evin. I tell them that I survived because of my friends who gave me hope; they made sure that I knew I was loved, despite all the darkness and evil in the world.
Please know that we love you, think of you, and do our best to make sure the world knows you. You are not alone. Don’t let darkness steal away all light from you. I pray and hope that your light overcomes. Take care of yourself.
Board Member, Vigdis Freedom Foundation”
Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.
Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.
Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. On December 13, 2017 the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.
Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on April 18, 2018 that the Turkish government had jailed 77,081 people between July 15, 2016 and April 11, 2018 over alleged links to the Gülen movement. (SCF with turkeypurge.com)