Frei Denken, the Swiss Asso­ci­a­tion of Free Thinkers,  award­ed its “Free­thinker Prize” for 2017 to  jour­nal­ist and artist Zehra Doğan, jailed in Turkey, and to Masih Aline­jad, the Iran­ian jour­nal­ist who found­ed the social media My Stealthy Free­dom which allows Iran­ian women to post their pho­tos with­out hijab on a Face­book page and on a blog.

freethinker 2017In 2015, the Free­thinker Prize was award­ed to author and blog­ger Raif Badawi, sen­tenced to 10 years in prison and  1 000 whiplash­es in Sau­di Ara­bia, as well as to his wife Ensaf Haidar  and to their lawyer and Human Rights advo­cate, Waleed Abulkhair.

The award cer­e­mo­ny was held on Sun­day Novem­ber 5 dur­ing the Denk­fest Fes­ti­val (the fes­ti­val of thought) at the Volk­shaus in Zurich…

Zehra Doğan, incar­cer­at­ed since June 2017 in Diyarbakır prison was rep­re­sent­ed by mem­bers of Kedis­tan, the webzine orga­niz­ing and uphold­ing the Euro­pean sol­i­dar­i­ty cam­paign which includes the exhi­bi­tion of her works and a book pro­duced as an accom­pa­ni­ment. Excerpts of Zehra’s let­ters were read in Turk­ish and in Eng­lish at the cer­e­mo­ny. The hun­dreds of guests, free thinkers includ­ing schol­ars, sci­en­tists and jour­nal­ists salut­ed Zehra’s tes­ti­mo­ny with enthu­si­asm and warm applause.

Here is the text that was read by Kedis­tan mag­a­zine’s jour­nal­ists, act­ing as Zehra’s emis­saries at the award ceremony: 

Due to vis­it­ing rules and inter­nal com­mu­ni­ca­tions in the high secu­ri­ty prison in Diyarbakir prison where she is held since June, we were able to trans­mit this good news to Zehra last Fri­day only. She could not write a text to thank you but we can tell you she was very pleased to receive this prize. But since we do not want to talk in her stead, we shall read you a small com­pi­la­tion of excerpts from her recent letters.

Since the prison admin­is­tra­tion wouldn’t give me my mate­r­i­al, I had to find alter­na­tives. And I real­ized that I had every­thing on hand. I use wrap­pers, garbage and food. I pro­duce the col­ors from nat­ur­al sources. For exam­ple, olives pro­vide me with black, toma­to paste gives me red… I crush pars­ley for green… turmer­ic pro­vides yel­low. There is tea, cof­fee… and hon­ey for glue. For paper, we are allowed note­books and writ­ing paper. So I use news­pa­pers, but also all kinds of wrap­pings. The card­board from box­es of cook­ies, the alu­minum foil on con­tain­ers… For spe­cial effects, I also use the foil from packs of cigarettes.

I focus on the Mid­dle East. I would like to fur­ther my knowl­edge of his­to­ry, cul­ture and region­al mythol­o­gy. I set aside 4 hours every day with one of my co-detainees to write a nov­el based on her life sto­ry. I draw and I paint when­ev­er I can. And I’ve also start­ed giv­ing draw­ing class­es to my friends here. In a way, I social­ize art in my fash­ion. They love to draw. Soon, I’ll be able to teach them how to make a paint­brush out of bird feath­ers found in the yard.

I wouldn’t like you to imag­ine a sad-sack with­drawn Zehra, wast­ing her time. I write to tell you every­thing I do here, so that when you hear and pro­nounce the name Zehra, you pic­ture a woman with a strong morale and hope, some­one who is strong and upright.

Every morn­ing we assem­ble for a read­ing ses­sion. With the read­ing of some 300 pages every day, dis­cus­sions and in-depth study, I think we some­how declare the vic­to­ry of ‘will’. I think a vital truth exists in jail and that I must express it by my behav­ior and my modes of thought.

I used to fear that in the absolute dark­ness of the walls built around me, with no knowl­edge of my roots, I would set­tle into the sit­u­a­tion, rec­on­cile myself with the per­se­cu­tion to which I am sub­ject­ed, that I would lock myself into the jail of my inner world.

If truth be told, it is eas­i­er to get rid of the jail in its con­crete aspect than to extract one’s self from the jail of one’s own ego. For it is much eas­i­er to build up in your head the dis­gust­ing per­cep­tion of this jail which then appears before your eyes with great clar­i­ty, in all its naked­ness. You must car­ry out this inter­nal bat­tle 24 hours a day. And this strug­gle frees your thoughts. We are in a con­stant exis­ten­tial bat­tle and we learn to stand tall, head straight, fac­ing this will to anni­hi­late us.

In this space where every­thing is con­stant­ly restrict­ed, where even a pen­cil is hard to find, I will learn how to cre­ate exis­tence out of a void.

For some­one with no rea­son to live, yes, jail is hard, even very hard. But my rea­son for liv­ing is pow­er­ful. This is why these walls become more imma­te­r­i­al for me with every pass­ing day.

No space in the world is total­ly free. Can you tell me that the space you are in right now is real­ly free? I under­stand that in your strug­gles also there is no ques­tion of absolute freedom.

And I think that in the search for free­dom, women must stand in the front ranks. We must fight with even greater strength against mas­cu­line dom­i­na­tion that decides how we must live, how we must talk, dress, wear make­up, what size and weight we must be, how we must behave sex­u­al­ly, and even how we must die. But I’m con­vinced we will shat­ter those dark glass­es they have forced onto us.

I send you all my love from a lit­tle prison filled with big-heart­ed women, in a town burnt and destroyed, far away from you.

As a woman, dom­i­nat­ed by patri­archy and oppressed by a regime that instru­men­tal­izes Islam in pol­i­tics, just as the for­mer regime called itself sec­u­lar while impos­ing it as a State reli­gion, free­dom of thought is dear to Zehra. And when the judge had the court con­demn her, claim­ing that her draw­ing of the destroyed town of Nusay­bin went beyond “allow­able lim­its for crit­i­cism”, I leave you to judge what free­dom is left in Turkey.

I thank you on her behalf.

Türkçe: Zehra Doğan’a İsviçre’d­en ödül : “Free­thinker Prize” Oku­mak için tıklayınız
Français: “Free­thinker Prize” suisse est décerné à Zehra Doğan Cliquez pour lire
Kur­dî: “Free­thinker Prize” • Ji Zehra Doğan re ji Swîsre Xelat Ji bo ku hûn bixweynin pê vêdera bikin ji kere­ma xwere

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