Jailed Kurdish journalist Nedim Türfent, who worked as a correspondent for the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency (DIHA), was made an honorary member of PEN Melbourne in August.
PEN Melbourne said in a statement published online that the decision was welcomed by Türfent. Jackie Mansourian, the co-convenor of PEN Melbourne’s Writers-in-Prison program, said they first corresponded with Türfent in January 2020.
“Nedim Türfent wrote his first card to us in 2020,” she said. “We were moved by his compassion and concern about the bushfires at that time.” According to Mansourian, Türfent had said he was “heartbroken” about the fires and said his thoughts were with them.
In a letter sent from prison, Türfent said he had received incredible solidarity from the international community. “While I am aging behind these walls, I have received so much support from all over the world,” he said. “I am aware that this support and solidarity were to ensure the protection of freedom of thought.”
Türfent said he was grateful to PEN for the membership, which meant a lot to him. “Coming from one of the farthest countries, this membership has erased all borders forced on us by political rulers,” he added.
PEN Melbourne said they would work for Türfent’s release from prison. “Nedim has accepted our invitation [to become a member]. This means that PEN Melbourne will work purposefully, and with many others, for his release. We will also help amplify awareness of his writings,” they said.
Türfent was detained on May 12, 2016, after reporting on Turkish special police forces’ ill-treatment of some 40 Kurdish workers.
In video footage taken by Türfent and published by DIHA, a police officer was seen shouting at handcuffed workers lying on the ground. “You will see the power of the Turks! What did this state do to you?” apparently alleging that the workers had links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
An online harassment campaign was launched against Türfent immediately after the release of the footage.
He was handed an eight-year, nine month prison sentence for “membership in a terrorist organization.” A total of 20 witness statements were used against him in court; however, 19 of those witnesses later said they had testified under duress and recanted their statements.
Türfent’s sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals on May 21, 2019, and his case in now pending before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).
Turkish journalists are often targeted and jailed for their journalistic activities. Turkey is one of the world’s biggest jailers of professional journalists and ranked 153rd among 180 countries in terms of press freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom’s “Jailed and Wanted Journalists in Turkey” database, 174 journalists are behind bars in Turkey and 167 are wanted and either in exile or at large.