Director of film about Turkey’s purge victims receives award for defying gov’t censorship

Nejla Demirci, the director of a documentary that sheds light on the challenges faced by victims of Turkey’s post-coup purge, has been honored with an award by the Contemporary Journalists Association (ÇGD) for her defiance in the face of government efforts to censor her work, Turkish Minute reported, citing the Kronos news website.

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, titled “Kanun Hükmü” (The Decree), 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.

In September the 60-year-old Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival in southern Turkey was abruptly canceled following a controversy surrounding the removal of Demirci’s film. The decision to remove the documentary sparked outrage, drawing strong criticism from victims of the purge and 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 cancellation came after the Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry withdrew its support, accusing the festival organizers of allowing “terrorist propaganda,” and sponsors followed suit.

Demirci received the 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 against the festival’s decision to remove her documentary.

The director emphasized that fighting against 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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