Jailed Turkish journalist Soncan to sparrows: ‘I am begging; Don’t build your nests in jails’

Jailed journalist Emre Soncan was detained just after the controversial coup on July 15, 2016.

Journalist Emre Soncan (36), who has been jailed in Turkey’s notorious Silivri Prison in İstanbul for 762 days and sentenced by a court to seven years, six months in prison on charges of “membership in a terrorist organisation,” has written an emotional letter about a baby sparrow dying in the ventilation unit of his ward.

Admitting that he was unable to save the sparrow, Soncan made an analogy between the migration of birds, the death of a baby sparrow, prison and freedom.

Concluding the letter, he said: “I don’t want to see the death of another sparrow in my ward… I am begging all the sparrows of the world… Do not make your nests in prisons…”

Soncan used to work for Turkey’s once-best-selling Zaman daily, which was closed down by the Turkish government in the aftermath of a controversial coup attempt due to its links to the Gülen movement. Soncan mainly covered defense issues and the president’s office.

A Turkish court on April 10, 2018, handed down a prison sentence of seven-and-a-half years on terror charges to Soncan, who is among dozens of journalists jailed in the aftermath of the coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

Soncan was detained 10 days after the failed coup and was arrested along with 21 other journalists in the same investigation on July 29, 2016. With additional arrests, the number rose to 27. The trial at the İstanbul 25th High Criminal Court was concluded on March 8, 2018.

The full text of Soncan’s letter is as follows:

To all the sparrows of the world…

I cannot stand it; when I see a little child crying, for instance, the enormous sadness in his teeny tiny eyes comes and takes hold of my heart. On top of that, it seeps in, sits in the seat of honour, I mean it resonates like “Come on, get up” in the tender depths of my heart… Then I squint my eyes like his tearful eyes, and suddenly our facial expressions resemble each other, one of my eyebrows lifts slightly, my lips pucker as if I am going to drop an innocent and timid kiss… When our facial expressions hold hands, our hands also shake hands…  When our moods are similar, I hug him and press his sadness to my chest… While making my voice sound like a child and asking “What happened?” the lines in my forehead become clear. What pain I have collected in those lines. I want to say “I understand you child”… The child understands, with childish wisdom, what I mean… Confides his troubles… The big troubles of his tiny world hit my smiles and collapse… I mean I deal with the problem, whatever the matter is… How bigger the issue of a child, who hasn’t yet lived long enough to say ‘issue’ to an issue, not saddened, not been saddened, not dirtied, not been dirtied, could be…

And I cannot resist when I see a father in a movie scene, in the page of a novel, who is too poor to buy a red bike for his son or a pink schoolbag or football shoes… Even worse, if I see the same poor father on the news while desperately hovering over his sick child, cupping his face in his hands in a low ebb, I feel a tightness in my chest… First, I’d like to glide around the book pages and add some imaginary paragraphs, so that man can suddenly get rich, return home in the evening with a red bicycle, a pink schoolbag and a pair of football shoes… Then I imagine I have millions of dollars so I can create an environment where all poor fathers can cure their sick children.

Moreover, I realized in prison that I was unable to stand seeing sparrows in need… Lots of times I revived ants drowning in the bathroom or washbasin, but I couldn’t do anything for that sparrow, the fall of a baby sparrow from its nest past a nine-level ventilation unit to the concrete floor, the abandonment by the mother; the flutters, the failures in order to fly, once again its fall to the ground after flapping its wings on the walls for dear life in each try; then the acceptance of its destiny, shivering and waiting quietly for death, gently, finely; the indifferent glances at the wet bread I extended with the tip of my index finger due to not knowing how to eat on its own, once again starting the wait for death by closing its eyes; its fear of death washing over my heart feather by feather, wing by wing, the feeling of being deeply moved lest it close its eyes forever; the attempts to dribble a few drops of water from my fingertips into its mouth in a vain effort when I caught its beak open, the feeling of grief after my failures; the synergy of the inexperience that I couldn’t make it hold on to life and the failure in trying to keep it alive, and their descent like threatening clouds over the prison…

Now the autumn is coming… The birds are gone… They have loaded my despair against death over their wings and left. Until the spring… They will come again… I don’t want to watch the death of another sparrow in the ward… I am begging all the sparrows of the world… Do not make your nests in prisons… Don’t leave your chirps on the edges of the prison roof or your dead bodies on the cold floor of the ventilation unit… Because a thousand chirps are not worth a death…

Emre Soncan

Silivri Prison, August 2018

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 237 journalists and media workers were in jail as of August 15, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 169 were under arrest pending trial while only 68 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 145 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.

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