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We con­sid­er essen­tial the trans­la­tion of this inter­view with Eren Keskin, lawyer and activist for human rights in Turkey, an inter­view which embraces the total­i­ty of the mat­ters of today and yesterday’s justice.

Beyond the homage due to this woman and her bat­tle, review­ing the pro­ce­dures in the cur­rent injus­tice inves­ti­ga­tions, the Ubuesque func­tion­ing of the judi­cia­ry insti­tu­tions as seen through her sharp eye, con­sti­tutes an indis­pens­able archive to which we will unfor­tu­nate­ly have to refer often in the com­ing months.

We must expect to have to orga­nize a con­se­quen­tial amount of sup­port for her also in the rep­e­ti­tion of upcom­ing tri­als, although she has a most « real­is­tic » appraisal her­self of the flab­by Euro­peans reac­tions to be expect­ed from now on.

Eren Keskin

Eren Keskin with İrf­an Aktan
Pho­to : Sadık Güleç

Eren Keskin: Rather than going abroad, I’ll be going to jail

Who would have thought that Eren Keskin, who was sub­ject­ed to armed assaults in the nineties, who was impris­oned for sim­ply using the word “Kur­dis­tan”, who has lost sev­er­al friends in unre­solved mur­ders, a human rights advo­cate who par­tic­i­pat­ed in many tri­als against tor­ture, assaults and rapes, would pre­fer those years to nowa­days? But what we con­sid­er impos­si­ble can hap­pen. Lawyer Eren Keskin says that, despite all the dark­ness, the nineties were bet­ter than today. And she’s sur­prised to hear her­self say it !

Human rights are forged through their defense and what we call human dig­ni­ty lives at the height of its con­quests. These val­ues come to light thanks to the strug­gles of coura­geous ones, despite threats of exile, of prison and of death. For indeed, defend­ers of human rights who have devot­ed their life to ele­vat­ing human dig­ni­ty in Turkey, are present­ly under threat and oppres­sion like nev­er before.

Lawyer Eren Keskin, one of the emblem­at­ic fig­ures of the strug­gle for human rights in Turkey, must face 143 sep­a­rate tri­als. As a result of tri­als opened against her at the end of the « Peace process », she is at risk of some ten years in jail and of penal­ties of up to 800 thou­sand Turk­ish lira [close to 200 thou­sand €]. Keskin, who has begun pay­ing some penal­ties already, is at short term risk of impris­on­ment. Hav­ing served for three years as sym­bol­ic edi­tor for Özgür Gün­dem, Keskin is involved in all the tri­als opened against the news­pa­per since the end of the Peace process, yet she is deter­mined not to step back.

Keskin, who has faced armed assaults, pris­ons terms and death threats with great courage and per­sis­tence since the nineties, and who con­tin­ues to defend human rights, has sent to their pen­sion many a Pres­i­dent of the Repub­lic, sev­er­al min­is­ters of the inte­ri­or and of jus­tice, but she is still here. Let’s lend an ear to this brave lawyer who has devot­ed her life to defend­ing the rights of all oppressed humans and to rais­ing the lev­el of human dignity.

The fact that you are one of the most exposed defend­ers of human rights since the nineties, and the pres­sures to which you have been per­son­al­ly sub­ject­ed make your analy­sis of the var­i­ous peri­ods that much more legit­i­mate. Con­se­quent­ly, could we begin by the noose jus­tice has set about your neck?

I am fac­ing 143 tri­als. Only one of them has opened yet for a speech I pro­nounced and I received a sen­tence of 10 months. The deci­sion is present­ly under review by the Court of Appeal. All the oth­er tri­als are relat­ed to Özgür Gün­dem, for which I served as edi­tor for three years.

Which is to say you are the one stand­ing tri­al for all the tri­als opened against the news­pa­per dur­ing those three years?

Yes. Özgür Gün­dem was cre­at­ed in the begin­ning of the 90’s, and I was their lawyer from day one. I knew all the jour­nal­ists who were killed at that time, such as « Uncle Musa » [Musa Anter], Burhan Karad­eniz. For per­sons of my age, Özgür Gün­dem occu­pies a pre­cious space in our life. In 2013, the paper was about to re-appear under the name Özgür Gün­dem [the paper has gone through sev­er­al clos­ings and bans dur­ing its his­to­ry] and I was asked “Can we put your name as Edi­tor? » As I had a sen­ti­men­tal attach­ment to the paper, I said « Of course! ». I did not work active­ly as an edi­tor but my name appeared on the mast­head. Tri­als that were nev­er opened dur­ing the Peace process* began when it end­ed, like so many bombings.

[* Period known as « peace process » or « resolution process » or « Kurdish opening » 2009–2015. The « resolution process » was not only promoted by the Kurdish Party but was mainly designed to help the AKP’s rise to power, concerned with vote-catching, and with its image as the « good pupil » in European negotations, an image required in order to shunt aside the Kemalist military. The Gülenists were enthusiastic supporters of the political process until their break with the AKP in 2013. The Kurdish movement seized on the « Peace process » to make advances on the matters of language, cultural autonomy and social catching-up, and to avoid the wedge Erdoğan was trying to drive between the Kurds and the PKK. In 2015, this welcome and promising peace initiative was broken off unilaterally by the ADKP regime.]

Were retroac­tive tri­als opened for arti­cles and texts pub­lished dur­ing the so-called res­o­lu­tion process?

No. There were no retroac­tive tri­als. When the process end­ed and the tri­als began, we start­ed the back-and-forth to the Jus­tice Palace for inter­ro­ga­tions. At first, we mere­ly kept repeat­ing to the pros­e­cu­tors « I am con­vinced that express­ing an opin­ion is not a crime ». But a bit lat­er, the pros­e­cu­tors began hav­ing us trans­ferred to the tri­bunal with a request for cus­tody. When we real­ized the tri­als were rain­ing down like bombs, we dis­cussed the mat­ter among com­rades and, at the end of the third year, I stepped down as edi­tor. At that point, on August 17 2016, there was a raid on the news­pa­per and we were all tak­en into cus­tody. I was released on parole, Aslı Erdoğan and Necmiye Alpay were impris­oned and, a bit lat­er, Murat Çelikkan was jailed. In this tri­al, we are all being judged with the pros­e­cu­tor demand­ing a life sentence.

Under the accu­sa­tion of « belong­ing to an organization »?

For attempt at sep­a­rat­ing ter­ri­to­ries from the State.

Is this based on pub­lished information?

On pub­lished infor­ma­tion and, from this, is implied the fact we are mem­bers of a sep­a­ratist orga­ni­za­tion. There is no source to this accu­sa­tion but that is indeed the motive used.

Is it also the motive for the oth­er tri­als against you?

Pro­pa­gan­da for an orga­ni­za­tion, insult to the Pres­i­dent of the Repub­lic, etc… 18 files are present­ly before the Court of Appeal. They rep­re­sent six years of prison and very sub­stan­tial finan­cial penal­ties. Dur­ing this time, there have been reforms to the law, and « appeal tri­bunals » have been set up [“Isti­naf mahkeme­si” tri­bunals using expe­di­tious pro­ce­dures]. Tri­als that car­ry sen­tences of less than 5 years are sent before the appeal tri­bunals instead of the Court of Appeal. Tri­als are dealt with more quick­ly before these tri­bunals. The ali­bi for their cre­ation was to light­en the load on justice.

Have any of the sen­tences been con­firmed by the appeal tribunals?

Yes, I have some tri­als where the finan­cial penal­ties have been set and con­firmed. There are oth­ers in the mak­ing. To this day, I have a con­firmed penal­ty of 57 thou­sand Turksh lira. But when you add them all up, were are look­ing at a penal­ty of 800 throu­sand Turk­ish lira. If you don’t pay, you go to jail. We have start­ed pay­ing by month­ly install­ments. The IHD (The Human Rights Asso­ci­a­tion of which Eren is Vice-Pres­i­dent) and the TIHV (The Human Rights Foun­da­tion) have start­ed a fundrais­ing cam­paign to this pur­pose. But for the prison sen­tences, there is no way out. They have not been con­firmed yet but once the deci­sions go up to the appeal court, the sen­tences will be con­firmed in three or four months.

Then, you will go to jail?

I will be impris­onned, yes. I am not going away.

I am not going abroad because we are right


I will not go abroad, I’ll go to jail. In 1995, I was on tri­al for pro­nounc­ing the word “Kur­dis­tan”, I was giv­en a prison sen­tence and served my time. As we have been in the human rights move­ment for many long years, we are known in inter­na­tion­al pub­lic opin­ion. Peo­ple know very well that Eren Keskin is not a mem­ber of an armed orga­ni­za­tion. But if the State judges me, sen­tences me and jails me for that rea­son, I must lead a fight against that. I want to dis­turb them. I will not go abroad because we are right. I think it was nec­es­sary for the State to fall back. The same thing hap­pened in 1995. In those years, many peo­ple went abroad, and few went to jail. I remem­ber the names of those who were jailed at that time, such as Fikret Başkaya, Haluk Gerg­er. It is thanks to those who went to jail that the dis­cus­sion occured over the fact free­doms of opin­ion and expres­sion were threat­ened. The same thing is going to happen.

In your opin­ion, it is use­ful that the fact opin­ion and expres­sion free­doms are threat­ened be discussed?

Of course, I don’t believe this dis­cus­sion will have the same effect as in the nineties, but it will always have some effect.

The AKP and the Deep State have reconciled

Despite the lim­it­ed means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion in the nineties, the pres­sures to which you were sub­ject­ed were known and a pub­lic opin­ion formed around this. Now, the pres­sures, the cus­todies, the arrests of human rights defendors don’t have the same effect in Europe as they did in the nineties and the State isn’t pay­ing atten­tion to inter­na­tion­al reac­tions. Yet, we recall how inter­na­tion­al reac­tions act­ed upon the State in the nineties. What is the dif­fer­ence between the nineties and now?

Since the found­ing of this State, the vis­i­ble State and the real one have always been at odds. Gov­ern­ments changed but the Deep State remained. On Sep­tem­ber 24 1996, in Diyarbakir prison, 11 peo­ple were mas­sa­cred by hav­ing their heads crushed in. When we called on the Min­is­ter of Jus­tice of that time, Şevket Kazan, of the Virtue Par­ty (Fazilet Par­tisi), he told us, « Believe me, I did not know. » At the tone of his voice, we under­stood this to be true. Real­ly, the min­is­ter did not know what had hap­pened over there. Espe­cial­ly since the buildup of ten­sions in its rela­tion­ship with Fethul­lah Gülen, the AKP has moved toward a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with the Deep State. Per­haps it does not go all the way, but I think the under­stand­ing is dif­fer­ent from what it was in the nineties.

But didn’t Çiller [the Prime Min­is­ter] do every­thing the Deep State want­ed even then?

Çiller did what she was asked to do, but she didn’t have pop­u­lar sup­port as does the present gov­ern­ment. Right now, there is 50% pop­u­lar sup­port back­ing the gov­erne­ment and that is not a small pro­por­tion. In the past, dur­ing the gov­ern­men­tal bro­ker­ing ses­sions, the hand of the Deep State was always the strongest, now, the government’s hand is stronger. Per­haps they neglect each oth­er some­what but they also need each oth­er. And that is ter­ri­fy­ing. Jour­nal­ists tell us « we find no one, no uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sors will­ing to talk to us. » No one wants to talk to the press. And I can under­stand that. There is eco­nom­ic pres­sure affect­ing people’s lives that didn’t exist in the nineties. They are fired, peo­ple and their fam­i­lies are left with no means of sub­sis­tence. That can be more ter­ri­fy­ing that going to prison. In the nineties, an arrest wasn’t fright­en­ing. Back then, there were some 200 tri­als against me. Osman Bay­demir and I were Co-Pres­i­dents of the IHD. A tri­al opened after each one of our speech­es, we used to tease each oth­er ask­ing « who has the most tri­als? » You knew you would leave the prosecutor’s office after mak­ing your state­ment. You only went to jail if you were sen­tenced and your sen­tence had been con­firmed. But now, even for a tes­ti­mo­ny, you go with the fear of being arrest­ed. This makes a very big difference.

From this view­point, arrests are normalized…

Of course. The oth­er day, after tes­ti­fy­ing about shar­ing my opin­ions on social media, I asked the pros­e­cu­tor « And now, am I free to go? »! I think he was a good pros­e­cu­tor because he was obvi­ous­ly embar­rassed inter­ro­gat­ing me. So there still exist some who are like that, he said « Of course you are free to go. » Even so, you can’t believe that you are free. I don’t recall anoth­er peri­od where arrests occured with so lit­tle atten­tion paid to the consequences.

When the AKP came to pow­er, it seems to me that the num­ber of pris­on­ers which was around 50 thou­sand soared above 200 thousand…

Of course.

Eren Keskin

Pho­to: Sadık Güleç

Human Rights defenders had more freedom in the nineties

Only three years ago, every­thing could be dis­cussed with a cer­tain free­dom. But this chang­ing atti­tude by the State reoc­curs reg­u­lar­ly. For a time, many things can be dis­cussed, then, once again, free­doms of opin­ion and expres­sion are rad­i­cal­ly cut back. And there is no way to pre­dict how long cur­rent lim­i­ta­tions will last. In the nineties, were you able to make pro­jec­tions on the end of the period?

I don’t believe there has been a sin­gle peri­od in Turkey when jus­tice was inde­pen­dent but our roads toward Law have nev­er been as cut off as they are now. In the nineties, human rights vio­la­tions occurred most­ly in Kur­dis­tan, the pop­u­la­tions in the West [of the coun­try] did not expe­ri­ence oppres­sion as they do now. Clear­ly, peo­ple here [in the West­ern part of the coun­try] didn’t care about what was hap­pen­ing in Kur­dis­tan. As human rights defend­ers we would draw up reports on dis­ap­pear­ances dur­ing cus­tody, on tor­tures, on burned vil­lages. Dur­ing that peri­od, apart from IHD, no civ­il soci­ety or uni­ver­si­ty orga­ni­za­tions went to inves­ti­gate in the region. Inter­na­tion­al pub­lic opin­ion was very inter­est­ed by the top­ic. Del­e­ga­tions kept arriv­ing, and we would file crim­i­nal com­plaints. We didn’t get results domes­ti­cal­ly but yes, we were con­vinced the State would lose these tri­als opened before the ECHR (Euro­pean Court of Human Rights). Besides, as there were no threats of arrests, we lived quietly.

Now, many war crimes are com­mit­ted in this region. For exam­ple, wound­ed gueril­la fight­ers are arrest­ed but they are mur­dered and the JITEM (Jan­dar­ma İstih­b­arat ve Terör­le Mücadele – Gen­darmerie Intel­li­gence Orga­ni­za­tion) open­ly pub­lish­es this on its accounts [on social media]. These are tru­ly war crimes! But if you file a com­plaint, an inves­ti­ga­tion is opened against you for being part of a ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion. In the nineties, we did not have to deal with this oppres­sion. Human rights defend­ers had a bit more free­dom. That said, speak­ing these words is a bit absurd because I, for exam­ple, was twice the vic­tim of an armed assault, we lost many com­rades in assas­si­na­tions by the counter-gueril­la. It is odd that I should think this way, but I repeat, at the time, I knew I would not be accused of belong­ing to a ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion because I had filed a com­plaint over an execution.

Society tends to consider torture as legitimate

In the nineties, the State tried to hide rights vio­la­tions, nowa­days, the vio­la­tions are announced on social media by the secu­ri­ty forces them­selves. For you, what State evo­lu­tion are we witnessing?

There are cer­tain­ly excep­tions, but I think Turk­ish soci­ety, with it’s left and right wing, is for­mat­ted along an “İtt­ih­atçi” men­tal­i­ty [Nation­al­ist Union group­ing the Young Turks]. We are at the Sep­tem­ber 6–7 anniver­sary [“the Istan­bul Pogrom” main­ly direct­ed against Istanbul’s Greek minor­i­ty – Sep­tem­ber 6–7 1955] and not only fas­cist those took part in it. Peo­ple burned down and pil­laged the homes of their clos­est neigh­bors. Peo­ple are so imbued with the ide­ol­o­gy of Turk­ism and racism that today 50% of them think of noth­ing else. In the eyes of soci­ety, vio­lence has become legit­i­mate. All those arrest­ed rel­a­tive to the Fetul­lah Gülen orga­ni­za­tion are tor­tured, with­out excep­tion. We have received requests con­cern­ing rapes. The pho­tos of tor­tured ones have been pub­lished and no one has said a word. We have heard « If he’s a putschist, of course he’ll be tor­tured. » Where­as one of the prin­ci­ples of human rights defend­ers is that you can­not tor­ture, not even a tor­tur­er. Fol­low­ing the peri­od of the putsch espe­cial­ly, soci­ety accept­ed vio­lence as nor­mal. This is not a prob­lem linked only to the State. It means that the peo­ple tend to con­sid­er tor­ture as legitimate.

So how is it that the crush­ing major­i­ty who sup­port­ed the res­o­lu­tion process and were for Peace is now mov­ing in the dia­met­ri­cal­ly oppo­site direction?

In my opin­ion, this can change again, with­in a sin­gle day. We think that if things that hap­pened in Habur were to hap­pen again today [On Octo­ber 19 2009, dur­ing the Peace process, 34 PKK fight­ers entered Turkey through the Habur fron­tier], tens of thou­sands of peo­ple would go down into the streets, there would be lynch­ings. But as long as the gov­ern­ment does not want it, noth­ing will hap­pen. I don’t fear that the present state of soci­ety will be permanent.

But the momen­tum for peace in soci­ety isn’t per­ma­nent either…

Of course it isn’t. After the Nobel Prize went to Orhan Pamuk [writer], Murat Belge [uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sor, author, defend­er of human rights] said “Those who are nation­al­ist, should be pleased by that prize. Those aren’t even nation­al­ists, they are morons. We have a soci­ety shaped by Islam and Turk­ish nation­al­ism, and very accus­tomed to being led. »

I don’t think I will see the country’s democratization

As a human rights defend­er, doesn’t all this incline you toward despair?

We fall into despair from time to time. But in my case, I’m not in expectan­cy over democ­ra­ti­za­tion in Turkey. First of all, I don’t think a real democ­ra­ti­za­tion can be pos­si­ble with­out an acknowl­edge­ment of the 1915 [Armen­ian] Geno­cide and with­out fac­ing up to this event point blank. I don’t think I will see this country’s democ­ra­ti­za­tion, except for dribs and drabs. We were filled with hope dur­ing the Peace process, and what hap­pened? It’s over. There could be anoth­er such peri­od tomor­row and again, it could come to noth­ing. For a per­ma­nent democ­ra­ti­za­tion, there must be a set­tling of accounts with the “İtt­ih­atçi” mentality.

You speak of the 50% back­ing pow­er, but there is anoth­er group of 50%. Why do you not men­tion those 50%?

Because I don’t see much dif­fer­ence between the two 50%. For me, those who want a real democ­ra­ti­za­tion rep­re­sent a max­i­mum of 10%. Look at the Pres­i­dent of the Home­land Par­ty (Vatan Par­tisi)… what is his name again?

Doğu Per­inçek…

Yes, Doğu Per­inçek was judged for nega­tion­ism in Switzer­land. Inter­ven­ing as the IHD Com­mis­sion against racism and dis­crim­i­na­tion, we were civ­il par­ty at the tri­al before the Euro­pean Court of Civ­il Rights. We main­tained that negat­ing the geno­cide is a crime that can­not be con­sid­ered as falling in the frame­work of free­doms of opin­ion and expres­sion. We said that with this nega­tion, a peo­ple sub­ject­ed to a geno­cide feels con­stant­ly imper­iled. In his opin­ion, Per­inçek won the tri­al… And who was at his side? The CHP (the sec­u­lar Kemal­ist Par­ty) the MHP (Nation­al­ist Par­ty), the AKP and Vatan Par­tisi… And they pub­lished a com­mon dec­la­ra­tion announc­ing « Turkey is the winner ».

Con­se­quent­ly, for me, those who want democ­ra­ti­za­tion are those who want to set­tle accounts with Turkey’s red lines. That is to say, the Kur­dish prob­lem and Kur­dis­tan, the Armen­ian Geno­cide, the Cyprus ques­tion, anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic sec­u­lar­ism or islamism. Those with whom we can stand side to side are those who want these ques­tions opened to dis­cus­sion. I think the pan-Turk­ish and islamist wings of the offi­cial “İtt­ih­atçi” line are ene­my broth­ers. They fight among them­selves but when the offi­cial ide­ol­o­gy is ques­tioned, they come togeth­er. For this rea­son, I don’t believe that the bat­tle between Kemal­ists and Islamists is a real battle.

In that case, don’t you think that the CHP’s oppo­si­tion, the reac­tions he calls up, is sensible.

Of course I con­sid­er it sen­si­ble and impor­tant. I think every­one must stand togeth­er with demands of democ­ra­ti­za­tion and against the author­i­tar­i­an­ism cre­at­ed by the AKP and the Pres­i­dent of the Repub­lic. Of course peo­ple must work togeth­er against this author­i­tar­i­an­ism. But this isn’t a uni­ty that can last until eternity.

Courage protects a human being

Since you do not believe there can be a true democ­ra­ti­za­tion in Turkey, with what con­vic­tions have your car­ried on the strug­gle for humans rights for decades?

If you help a sin­gle per­son, and love what you are doing, that is enough. Until we start­ed the Legal Aid office in 1997 against sex­u­al abuse and rapes dur­ing cus­tody, those ques­tions weren’t dis­cussed much. When I was impris­oned, I was with Kur­dish women. We knew the women were being sub­ject­ed to tor­ture and this was always hushed up. One day, as I was pac­ing back and forth, one of the girls whose lawyer I had been on the out­side, came to see me and told me she had been raped. [While telling me this] she had a ner­vous break­down. Then, we start­ed learn­ing that all the women, with­out excep­tion, were vic­tims of abuse. So I decid­ed to work on this when I came out of jail. Now, every­one knows that sex­u­al tor­ture is one of the tor­ture meth­ods. And that’s very impor­tant to me.

Things you do, even if they are not much, inevitably cause an evo­lu­tion. The fact of telling that free­doms of opin­ion and of speech don’t exist in Turkey, is also some­thing. Over time, this becomes a way of life. Many peo­ple live this way, as I do. We haven’t changed. We are still say­ing what we have been say­ing from the begin­ning. They are the ones who change, not us. We always say that the prob­lem isn’t the PKK, the prob­lem is Kurdistan.

Did the PKK exist when Seyid Rıza was mas­sa­cred? [Seyid Rıza : Impor­tant “pir” and zaza Kur­dish trib­al chief who led the Der­sim revolt (1937–1938) against the Turk­ish army. Born 1863 in Der­sim- died 15 Novem­ber 1937 Elâzığ]. There is a prob­lem and it orig­i­nates with the State. There is a chance to resolve this prob­lem if the State shows a will­ing­ness to resolve it.

As for the Armen­ian Geno­cide, there was a time when the AKP began drop­ping the « so-called » before the word « Geno­cide » then it start­ed using the expres­sion again. But we haven’t wavered on this ques­tion. Courage pro­tects a human being. Even if the oppo­nent sees you as an ene­my, he has to respect you. And that gives strength and courage.

Some oppo­nents to the regime leave for oth­er coun­tries say­ing « nei­ther this soci­ety nor this State will ever change ». What dis­tances you from this vision?

I love these lands very much. I’ve nev­er thought of liv­ing abroad. Now, I couldn’t leave any­way since I’m for­bid­den exit from the ter­ri­to­ry. But when I was called away for meet­ings, I’d start suf­fo­cat­ing after three days. We don’t love those who lead us, that’s anoth­er ques­tion, but I con­sid­er that these lands belong to us.

What is going on in pris­ons now?

Left-wingers and Kurds have always had prob­lemns in prison and they go on hav­ing prob­lems now.

The Pres­i­dent of the Repub­lic defend­ed him­self and spoke about « Guan­tanamo » and, indeed, under the state of emer­gency, there are Guan­tanamo-liked prac­tices. There are impor­tant num­bers of sick pris­on­ers not trans­fered to the hos­pi­tal, there is tor­ture from time to time. There is a very dis­turb­ing prac­tice, espe­cial­ly for the women, of sur­veil­lance cam­eras in their liv­ing space. They do not feel safe, even in the bath­room. This is a ter­ri­fy­ing things. Observ­ing some­one while he or she attends to inti­mate func­tions is clear­ly a sex­u­al aggres­sion. There are dif­fi­cul­ties con­cern­ing vis­its. For the slight­est thing, iso­la­tion is giv­en as pun­ish­ment. Fam­i­ly vis­its to pris­on­ers sen­tenced for FETÖ [Fethul­lah Gülen’s Orga­ni­za­tion] are very prob­lem­at­ic. Attack­ing the right to defense in its very foun­da­tions, they make inte­gral record­ings of the vis­its. We are fac­ing a State that denounces all the inter­na­tion­al agree­ments Turkey has signed.

In my whole life, I can­not recall anoth­er peri­od where I found myself with so lit­tle vision for the future.

Some consulates offered « you can ask us for asylum », I refused.

Can one or oth­er of the inter­na­tion­al or the Turk­ish orga­ni­za­tions con­duct inquiries into the prison practices?

As a gen­er­al prin­ci­ple, the State does not accept any such requests. And we also see that inter­na­tion­al pub­lic opin­ion does not man­i­fest the same inter­est as it did in the nineties.


I think the Syr­i­an migra­tion had a par­tic­u­lar­ly strong effect. In the final count, State rela­tions are rela­tions of inter­est and no State is an orga­ni­za­tion for the pro­tec­tion of human rights. Moroev­er, nei­ther the prison nor the AFAD camps [Dis­as­ter and Emer­gency Man­age­ment Pres­i­den­cy linked to the Prime Minister’s office] are opened to inspec­tion by civ­il soci­ety orga­ni­za­tions. Reports are drawn up based on the con­tacts lay­w­ers have with the pris­on­ers. There is not oth­er pos­si­ble way for inter­na­tion­al del­e­ga­tions and civ­il soci­ety orga­ni­za­tions to estab­lish con­tact with the admin­is­tra­tions to access the pris­on­ers’ com­plaints and demands.

There is the pos­si­bil­i­ty that your sen­tences will be con­firmed in the com­ing days. Can you pre­dict how long your incar­cer­a­tion would be?

I expe­ri­ence a great deal of pride over the fact Murat Çelikkan did not go abroad, but went to jail. If he is not released on parole, I think he will be held for approx­i­mate­ly 40 jours. This is the pro­ce­dure that should apply and if it applies in my case, I will be impris­oned for a few years. Based on my com­pu­ta­tions, my sen­tences should add up to more than ten years but, as I said, if they apply the parole pro­ce­dure, I could be jailed for a short­er peri­od of time.

How does one feel, know­ing one is going to jail?

I received pro­pos­als from some con­sulates who said « you can take refuge with us ». I didn’t want it. If I leave, I won’t have a clear con­science. Going to jail is very hard, no doubt about it. There are young­sters I’m help­ing with their stud­ies, there are peo­ple who work with me, there is my 85 year old moth­er for whom I am respon­si­ble, there is the rent on my home. All those things are impor­tant, but despite it all, in jail, I won’t expe­ri­ence the vex­a­tion I would feel abroad.

With the hostility against Erdoğan, the State is forgotten

You were in the line of fire in the nineties. Do you receive threats nowadays?

I receive a lot of threats via social media but I don’t pay them much atten­tion. We had many threats in the nineties, we were sub­ject­ed to armed assaults. In those days, the state even offered Osman Bay­demir and I secu­ri­ty guards but we refused. You have to go on liv­ing with­out becom­ing obsessed. Because if you think about it a lot, you run the risk of not being able to step out of your home anymore.

Con­sid­er­ing all the sac­ri­fices need­ed in order to defend human rights, are there still new defend­ers of human rights com­ing up through the new generations?

Yes, defend­ers are being formed in the new gen­er­a­tions, even if there are not enough of them. To this pur­pose the IHD found­ed the Acad­e­my of Human Rights. Because it’s not enough to run around and write press releas­es. You must know the prob­lems of these lands and the State’s red lines. There are some very moti­vat­ed young people.

Do you think you will retire from the defense of human rights some day?

Absolute­ly not. As long as my health holds out, I won’t be able to stop.

What do you think of the oper­a­tion which tar­get­ed human rights defend­ers in Büyükada?

I know this case very well because I par­ti­pat­ed in the inter­ro­ga­tions. It was the much tra­gi-com­ic defense in my entire career. An unimag­in­able inves­ti­ga­tions, absurd and that didn’t hold togeth­er. Jour­nal­ists close to the gov­ern­ment began writ­ing up the absur­di­ty. To me, they are like hostages to the con­flicts between Turkey and Europe and will walk free after the first hear­ing. But it’s a shame, it is time stolen from people’s lives.

Speak­ing of the pros­e­cu­tor who took down your tes­ti­mo­ny con­cern­ing the opin­ions you shared on social media you said « there are still pros­e­cu­tors like this one’. What kind of evo­lu­tion have you observed in the judi­cia­ry? What do you see when you com­pare the pic­ture with that in the nineties?

I think that, among the uni­ver­si­ty grad­u­ates, the ones who read the less become judges. Apart from a few excep­tions, they are so engrossed in their files that they don’t fol­low the news, they know noth­ing about inter­na­tion­al law… For exam­ple, you enter a tri­al on vio­lence against women, you tell them « The Istan­bul Agree­ment » [Euro­pean Coun­cil Agree­ment on the pre­ven­tion of vio­lence aganst women and domes­tic vio­lence, signed in Istan­bul in 2011], they stare at you, emp­ty-eyed. In the nineties and ear­li­er, there was a judi­cia­ry linked to the mil­i­tary. For me, with the hos­til­i­ty against Erdoğan, the State is for­got­ten. I think this is a mis­take. As if in Turkey, the State was very good and every­thing had turned bad with Erdoğan’s arrival. But jus­tice has always been depen­dent on the State. We talk about the fact the Pres­i­dent of the Court of Appeal bows his head before Erdoğan, but we also knew of pros­e­cu­tors who were called over to the Chief of Staff in the nineties, and made to wait in cus­tody. The judi­cia­ry has always been depen­dent, all that changes are the cen­tral forces on which it depends. Today, the judges do not feel free, and make the deci­sions want­ed by the Pres­i­dent of the Repub­lic. For exam­ple, in the FETÖ tri­al [tri­al linked to the attempt­ed putsch], the judges took a just deci­sion and freed 23 peo­ple. Atil­la Taş [a singer, one of the accused at this tri­al ], what would such a man have done? The next day, the judges who had freed the 23 were removed from office. So what judge can act inde­pen­dent­ly? When we looked at each oth­er, I saw the sad­ness in the eyes of the pros­e­cu­tor inter­ro­gat­ing me about what I had shared on social media. It was a painful moment, see­ing a pros­e­cu­tor in this condition.

How do you inter­pret the Islamist community’s lack of reac­tion con­cern­ing human rights?

When Tayyip Erdoğan was judged [in 1998, accused of incit­ing hatred with a speech pro­nounced in Siirt] on the IHD poster on free­dom of speech, my pho­to was right next to Erdoğan’s. We had defend­ed Erdoğan’s free­dom of speech, we have made those posters. On Feb­ru­ary 28th* we also spoke out against oppres­sions tar­get­ing Mus­lims. We demon­strat­ed side by side with veiled women.

[28 February or the “Post-modern Coup d’Etat” : On February 28 1997, the National Security Council addressed a series of injunctions to the coalition government of Islamist Necmettin Erbakan demanding that he respect secularism. In reality, these injuctions were launching a process that would see the Turkish army and its main auxiliaries (the administration, justice, media, big business, and the political parties part of the system, notably) work at destabilizing the Erbakan government, obtaining its resignation and finally, the dissolution of the Islamist Prosperity Party (Refah partisi). This Party reformed a few years later under the name of Justice and Development Party (AKP). Taking good note of its previous failure, once in power again, the new Party acted to durably diminish the influence of the military over civilian power. You know the rest of the story…]

But now, in their opin­ion, they are free and don’t pay atten­tion to any­thing. They only care about them­selves. Except that the defense of human rights is uni­ver­sal. The Islamists have no such notion as we have seen.

Some­times, I can’t believe what we are liv­ing through. It’s like a bad dream.

Eren Keskin

Eren Keskin lawyer and activist, defend­er of Human Rights in Turkey , is Vice-Pres­i­dent of the Turk­ish Asso­ci­a­tion for Human Rights (IHD) and co-founder of the Legal Aid Project for women raped or sex­u­al­ly abused by Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Forces.

Born of a Kur­dish father from Sivas and an Istan­bul moth­er, Eren was shocked as a teenag­er by the exe­cu­tion of three young men. After her legal stud­ies were inter­rupt­ed by the mil­i­tary coup in 1980, she became involved in the Turk­ish Asso­ci­a­tion for Human Rights of which she is now Vice-Pres­i­dent , rather than involv­ing her­self in polit­i­cal par­ties which she found « too mil­i­taris­tic and not suf­fi­cient­ly open to women ». She con­ducts research into burned Kur­dish vil­lages, puni­tive expe­di­tions, dis­ap­peare­ances… And nar­row­ly escapes two assas­si­na­tions tar­get­ing her in 1994 and in 2001. Her stat­ed posi­tions and the sim­ple fact of using the word « Kur­dis­tan » in an arti­cle lead to her impris­on­ment for sev­er­al months, a ban on her right to prac­tice law and a good hun­dred or so legal actions – the most recent for her columns in Özgür Gün­dem, as was the case for Aslı Erdoğan. And she is still at risk of return­ing to prison for a long time. No mat­ter what, she car­ries on with the fight.

Eren Keskin has been award­ed sev­er­al prizes, that of Euro­pean Jurist of the Year (2001), the Aix-la-Chapelle Peace Prize for her work in favor of human rights (2004), the Theodor-Haeck­er Prize for civic courage and polit­i­cal integri­ty (2005). On Sep­tem­ber 8th, the Anna Dahlbäck Memo­r­i­al Foun­da­tion based in Stock­hholm award­ed her the 2017 Human Rights Prize.

İrfan Aktan began in journalism in 2000 on Bianet. He has worked as a journalist, a correspondent or an editor for l’Express, BirGün, Nokta, Yeni Aktüel, Newsweek Türkiye, Birikim, Radikal, birdirbir.org, gazete.com. He was the Ankara representative for IMC-TV. He is the author of two books: “Nazê/Bir Göçüş Öyküsü” (Nazê/A tale of exodus ), “Zehir ve Panzehir: Kürt Sorunu” (Poison and antidote: The Kurdish Question). He presently writes for l’Express, Al Monitor, and Duvar.

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
*A word to English-speaking readers: in all instances where the original text is in Turkish or Kurdish, the English version is derived from French translations. Inevitably, some shift in meaning occurs with each translation. Hopefully, the intent of the original is preserved in all cases. While an ideal situation would call for a direct translation from the original, access to information remains our main objective in this exercise and, we hope, makes more sense than would a translation provided by AI…
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