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An arti­cle by Zehra Doğan, already pub­lished in Turk­ish by Duvar on May 3rd 2019.

Talking for the outside about my imprisoned journalist friends

Today, May 3rd, is “World Free­dom of the Press Day”. I think we can best write about such a day in such a coun­try. In a coun­try where over one hun­dred jour­nal­ists are in jail and which holds high the flame of the top rank in the impris­on­ment of jour­nal­ists, and where it is still as pre­cious to let the ink flow, stub­born­ly, in the name of free­dom. Who knows, per­haps this con­tra­dic­tion gives even more mean­ing to this day for us. On this spe­cif­ic day, as a recent­ly released jour­nal­ist who still has­n’t real­ized what it means to be out­side, I can do noth­ing oth­er than to talk to you about my jour­nal­ist friends who are still in jail.

The fact of speak­ing from the out­side about friends with whom I was still liv­ing a short while ago, pro­duces a strange sen­sa­tion. On the day of my lib­er­a­tion, as they led me to the great iron door, I under­stood that I would nev­er be tru­ly free. Once I had crossed the thresh­old, as the door closed on them, our eyes touched a last time for a sec­ond. In one instant by the virtue of a few cen­time­ters dif­fer­ence, our posi­tions had changed. I was free and, behind me, they remained pris­on­ers. But was this the truth? In leav­ing the prison, I left a part of myself there, and I had tak­en a part of each of them into my heart. Thus, nei­ther was I total­ly free, nor were they total­ly prisoners.

Now, with your per­mis­sion, I will tell you about those jour­nal­ists among all the women who are now a part of me.


Type E prison in Diyarbakır. Two year ago. It was win­ter. First, Ley­la Güven who was then the co-pres­i­dent of the DTK joined us. She told us “Özlem is in custdry, they will soon bring her here also.“But days went by and Özlem did­n’t come. We thought she might have been lib­er­at­ed. Our opti­mism could kill us. Despite the fact that we live the worst every moment, with stub­born opti­mism, we go on think­ing on the best of things. Some­times this exces­sive pos­i­tive spir­it in women dri­ves me crazy. But is it nec­es­sary? Yes, quite obviously.

Days lat­er, sud­den­ly in the night, the scary creak­ing of the door split our ears. The shrill voice of the guard res­onat­ed against the walls: “Laaadies, I’ve grought you a new frieeeeennnd!” As if she might expect a reward for bring­ing such good news. That’s how out­ra­geous she was… Özlem is the one who entered. They had held her in cus­tody for days. Even we had for­got­ten Özlem. She did­n’t get to eat much dur­ing her cus­tody. Her long slim body had melt­ed away even more.

Özlem is a jour­nal­ist from whom I learned many things on the out­side. She worked a lot dur­ing the years where JINHA was get­ting estab­lished. She took care of each and every cor­re­spon­dent, and worked with them, one by one. As JINHA was a brand new agency, there was much to be done. All its belong­ings con­sist­ed of a few tables and chairs. And since we had gath­ered this mate­r­i­al from dif­fer­ent insti­tu­tions, noth­ing matched. Our agency was filled with col­ors. So much so that the arti­cles about JINHA said “the decor match­es wom­en’s lifestyles, in every col­or”. Even if the real­i­ty was quite dif­fer­ent, our agency with its recy­cled decor was a good match for our edi­to­r­i­al line. Dur­ing that time, Özlem brought thing to the agency, to the point of emp­ty­ing the pro­duc­tion firm where she worked. Thus our wom­en’s agency became even more colorful.

Özlem quick­ly brought her extreme­ly dynam­ic and amus­ing life into our inte­ri­or. Because of her ener­getic man­ner and clear eyes, our friends called her the “moun­tain goat”. The nick­name stuck. None of us want­ed to believe Özlem would be sen­tenced and we hoped she would be quick­ly lib­er­at­ed. But she was sen­tenced to 9 years and 8 months in jail for “belong­ing to an ille­gal orga­ni­za­tion”. She is present­ly incar­cer­at­ed in the Type E prison in Diyarbakir. Who can con­firm Özlem’s true sta­tus as a jour­nal­ist? The gov­ern­ment and its Jus­tice that claim the oppo­site or us, her jour­nal­ist friends who worked with her for years and who learned so much from her? But in jail, Özlem always said the fol­low­ing: “If there is some­thing you want to express, it will always find some way to be under­stood and to find its prop­er place.“Yes, per­haps there are peo­ple today who do not want to know what she is express­ing, but as she says, some day the fact she is a jour­nal­ist will be under­stood and what she wants to say will finds its prop­er place.


With Kib­riye at the agency, we went through a num­ber of dif­fi­cul­ties and prob­lems togeth­er. At first Kib­riye worked at JINHA. Then when JINHA was closed down by decree, she start­ed work­ing at SUJIN right from its incep­tion. She did not count her days or her nights while work­ing for SUJIN. “A large nee­dle to stick in men’s macho lan­guage!” Such was the agen­cy’s slo­gan. This is prob­a­bly why the brains of the men whose tongues were bleed­ing from the pain also closed down SUJIN by decree. With her col­leagues, Kib­riye then found­ed JINNEWS. Short­ly there­after, on Octo­ber 9 2018, she was arrested.

Kib­riye joined us in jail awith dozens of oth­er women. Our small quar­ters turned into a big cir­cus. Sec­tion C‑4 where I was had been built for 20 peo­ple, it was now filled with 41 women. As for sec­tion C‑3 where Kib­riye was detained, 25 women were crammed into it.

We talked with Kib­riye from the foot of the wall, from one win­dow to the oth­er, with­out being able to see one anoth­er. She told me about JINNEWS. How many women had joined us, how things had changed in the past two year, the events the agency had experienced…She told every­thing through the win­dow, with­out see­ing one anoth­er, speak­ing while fac­ing a cracked wall fes­tooned with barbed wire. Our con­ver­sa­tions rolled on with the spir­it of gos­sip­ing at a par­ty, as if we were not impris­oned, as if we lived on the same street. Yet, Kib­riye and oth­er friends had been through quite a bit of prob­lems dur­ing their cus­tody. Their door was bro­ken down, they were sub­ject­ed to strip search­es and insults every day.

Short­ly there­after, I was trans­fered against my will with 19 oth­er friends, to the prison in Tar­sus. Kib­riye was among those stay­ing in Diyarbakir. We left this jail at five AM with tears in our eyes. A few days lat­er, we heard in Tar­sus prison that Ley­la Güven had begun a hunger strike. A month and a half lat­er, Kib­riye joined the strike. She has been on hunger strike since Decem­ber 16 2018. She is vom­it­ing blood. Her health is crit­i­cal. She suf­fers from intesti­nal prob­lems, headaches, nau­sea, ris­ing and falling blood pres­sure. Her weak­ened state and mus­cu­lar pains make walk­ing dif­fi­cult. She is no longer allowed to see her lawyers or to receive vis­its from her relatives.


I met up with Dıl­birin dur­ing our con­ver­sa­tion in Tar­sus prison, by com­mu­ni­cat­ing through the sew­er hatch. We were in dif­fer­ent sec­tions at that time. Pri­or to my lib­er­a­tion I changed sec­tions in order to spend some time also with these friends. As Dıl­birin and I were both from Mardin, we talked at length about Mardin “a feast by day, a fine scenery by night”. We promised one anoth­er “Some day, what­ev­er the cost, we will go to the fortress in Mardin and drink con­tra­band tea by nightfall.”

Dıl­birin worked for the Kur­dish ser­vice at JINHA. She wrote sev­er­al arti­cles about the region in Kur­dish for JINHA. At the same time, Dıl­birin was the muhtar(offi­cial) for her vil­lage. This is why they tar­get­ted her. They sen­tenced her, say­ing “In your vil­lage, you sup­port and help an ille­gal orga­ni­za­tion.” She has been incar­cer­at­ed for two years and a half.

Dıl­birin is also on hunger strike since Jan­u­ary 5 2019. She suf­fers from extreme weight loss and mus­cu­lar weak­ness. More­o­ev­er, she suf­fers from hepati­tis B. At her sis­ter’s last vis­it, Dıl­birin sent us a mes­sage: “I would like to take part in the future peace. Upcom­ing dif­fi­cul­ties do not fright­en me. If iso­la­tion ceas­es, that will be good enough for me.”


We worked with Meltem for sev­er­al months in Nusay­bin. Of the two, the hard­est work­ing was Meltem. She was much loved by the res­i­dents. Where there was an infor­ma­tion to be relayed, Meltem was on the spot. She was extreme­ly quick. She would sweat so that an infor­ma­tion went through her agency and she always man­aged to trans­mit her infor­ma­tion in the best fash­ion and the short­est delays. In Nusay­bin where there was no pow­er for months, she did­n’t leave the side of the gen­er­a­tor, she wrote her arti­cles, did her edit­ing for hours, despite the freez­ing cold. I learned many things from her and from her kindness.

Meltem was accused of “pro­pa­gan­da”, the infor­ma­tion she pro­vid­ed was entered as proof, and she was sen­tenced to 2 years and 4 months in jail. She is cur­rent­ly incar­cer­at­ed at the wom­en’s prison in Gebze.

The life of each woman is a tale, each one is beau­ti­ful. Writ­ing them down today reminds us once again, that the press is not free. Our wish is for free­dom through the world and that there no longer be the need of a day ded­i­cat­ed to “World Free­dom of the Press”.

Zehra Doğan

Note from Kedis­tan: You can sup­port these women by send­ing them cards and letters.
You will find the list of address­es HERE.

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges

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Zehra Doğan
Auteure, mem­bre d’hon­neur de Kedistan
Jour­nal­iste, artiste. Jour­nal­ist, artist. Gazete­ci, sanatçı.