Writing letters on water

Trials without end, shady evidence, and fabricated documents are a reality in today’s Turkish judicial system. Translator Petek Demir was tired of seeing his writer and journalist colleagues imprisoned, so he began to work part-time as a paralegal. In this article, he takes us behind Kafka-like proceedings, where one paradox succeeds another.

January 8 2013 Text: Petek Demir

It's been five years by now. Each year I kept telling myself “Let's call it a year now and move on.” I couldn't. It's not that I can't get a life. I can. It's the thought of these men and women holding pen in prisons, their images won't just leave me.

Most of the time, working for their freedom is discouraging, especially when you see the angry faces looking at you or your friends leaving the room while you're reading a letter from prison. My beloved country is a cocktail of thoughts, ideas, freedom fights and greed. These journalists and writers were telling the stories they knew, those they had witnessed so far. Now there's a big silence, we created a bed of roses without thorns and call it a heaven. We caught the scapegoats and put them behind bars without telling them what crime they committed. They know what they did for sure, better than anyone else. The defendants of these cases, Ergenekon, Oda TV and KCK, each was telling a different story from a different point of view. Now, the prosecution claims they were pieces of the same terror organization. However, it was really hard to bring together even the lawyers of these people. Most of them don't have a common point.

From time to time, friends and family of one of them come together, make a protest or walk on Taksim Square. Each individual group make statements for their own soul in prison and not the other. It isn't that hard to understand the reason, these writers and journalists didn't know they were linked to each other before being put in a cage and read the indictment. As the prosecutor says, “This Ergenekon is such a terror organization that even its members don't know they are members of it.” I don't know who's going to solve that puzzle of 120 million pages with additional files. Now there's a danger that they may unite Ergenekon and Oda TV cases together. To be honest, this is a big burden on the judges, too, if they haven't decided what they will decide yet.

Let me give you an example from the courtroom. On one of these days when lawyers were allowed to talk -later court stopped listening to them-, one of the lawyers asked a question to the judge: “Your Honour, are Capitan Miki and Zagor also defendants of this case?” “What are you saying Mr Lawyer? Are you trying to be interesting?” the judge asked. “No, Your Honour. Anti-terror bureau sent a document about my client. But they didn't have any evidences, so they just downloaded a page from Google and put it in the file as a document. Let me read: 'V. K. told this job to Capitan Miki. Capitan Miki said he couldn't do it. Zagor said he could. When V. K. saw that Zagor couldn’t do this job, he handed it to Mr No. Mister No took Mandrake with him and finished the job. This is how it happened.'” I hope you enjoyed reading it.

From time to time, I take international groups with me to the courtrooms. I am just a bridge and nothing else. I translate. I just want the outside world to know what's going on. I met all of the defendants of these cases after they got arrested except for Tuncay Özkan. There were more than 1 million people supporting him before being prisoned, can you believe? Now there's emptiness. Fear? You name it. This is the 5th year of his imprisonment; he spent the last 2 years of it in a 9-m2 isolation cell, his bed, toilet and table included. He had to sleep in a cell wet with sewage 4 times. His daughter was 15 when he got arrested, they kicked her out of the school because she was going to visit his father every Wednesday- the only day she was allowed to see him. Some of my international friends are made believe that he had grenades. Those 2 candle burners in the shape of grenades were found in a warehouse, which belonged to the TV station that he, owned. I have the forensic reports for God's sake.

When I go to the courtroom with these international NGOs or groups, I fight with my feelings. I shrink more and more, with each ladder I have to climb. Those men, once a university dean like Prof F. Hilmioğlu, once a renowned doctor and a university owner Prof M. Haberal, once a very well known and loved journalist and writer T. Özkan and M. Balbay, once a publisher H.İ. Özcan and A. Durmuşoğlu who got prisoned to 14 years while making a defence because he didn't have a lawyer, and Y. Küçük a passionate nationalist journalist, wait there in a distance, in their best suites, tied up and shaved, wait there for their turn to come, to say something to express themselves to these international visitors because they had lost all their hopes that they can express themselves to the authority which is going to decide for them. And those times, I ask myself: “Who am I?” Who am I to be their only bridge with the outside world? What if I'm missing something, what if someone else could do better than I do? Then I leave these questions and continue translating.

One day I went to the trial with another international visitor. He was quite disappointed because the judges were reading the statements of the deceased defendants like there was nothing else to do. That day, Prof Hilmioğlu's two sons and wife were sitting in front of me. They were looking at the pictures of their father in prison and smiling to him. I looked at these two lovely sons and wished a perfect future for them. They were so young, so cultivated and so sweet, trying to cheer up their father who had metastasis. Before leaving the court I said my goodbyes but didn't want to wake up the elder son who was sleeping his head on the wall sitting on the bench. This was the last time I saw him. He died in a car crash at the age of 22. They allowed Hilmioğlu to go to his son's funeral but didn't let him spend the night with his family with the fear he might escape. I sincerely don't think he cares what they will punish him with from now on. Even I couldn't get over with this boy's death.

Then there's this Oda TV case, based solely on the word documents found on these journalists' computers. And the prosecution accuses them for covering news stories with the orders of terror organization leaders; these word documents are the only proofs. Whereas, all the experts that the court appealed said that these computers were attacked by the same viruses and same Trojans which could insert documents on the computers, change the save and modification dates of the files and that these journalists never opened these documents on their computers. You might have come to a conclusion but the government institute TÜBİTAK says in its report as the final statement that it can't decide whether these files were inserted by the journalists or someone else. In the last trial of this case, Soner Yalçın made it very clear that he had nothing to do with these files and he was accused only because of his journalism, but he's in prison for 2 years. How can I ever not mention Barış Terkoğlu who wrote the story of the dinner where judges, prosecutors and security forces of these cases came together and posed for the camera? He let the public see these photos and wrote who's who and then he became one of the defendants of Oda TV case. Now if they unite the two cases, this very same judge in the picture will decide his faith. Or Barış Pehlivan, another young journalist, who made nothing but journalism for Oda TV. And there's Müyesser Yıldız, poor lady was put in an empty and cold ward, she had stopped eating and longed for a cat for a very long time. Prosecution said, even if she didn't change the dates of the files on her computer, her 19-year-old son could. At least, these last 3 names are released and now they're judged without arrest.

On the first day of the KCK case, the supposed city organization of PKK, I went to the court with some international visitors. My only intention was to show to the group that I come from that we can at least try to understand ones we hadn't so far and support them with our existence. I believe there's a source feeding journalists and writers even if they think they talk about opposite things. The prosecutors may have a point, if they're talking about this link. I believe the biggest treasure of this world is information and we can only see bits of it as long as we listen to people like us. The moment we start listening to the other, we will connect the pieces together, open that treasure chest and see the whole picture, start receiving and sharing this endless information. I saw some friends there, who never came to the other cases. First I was sad, disappointed. Then I started listening to them. They were saying they don't believe in the sincerity of the defendants of other cases because of what they had said before. Even though I know that they're misunderstanding each other, I can say that as long as we say we have nothing else to hear or learn we will never be able to open that treasure. I'm not the same person I was before. Maybe I could think so before witnessing these ill procedures but what happened just happened and events change people. We start thinking differently after our experiences, after some instances, especially after listening to each other. Unfortunately, on that first day of the trial, some thieves broke into my car and stole both mine and international visitors' laptops and mobiles. There was also some money in the car but they had left it behind. Also there are no other theft reports on that day. This happened in front of Silivri prison, in the gendarmerie area. Prosecution found nothing so far. Now these thieves know everything about me. Who were they? I'll never know.

They tell me all I'm doing is writing letters on water and I will end up with nothing. I don't need to have a hope that I will succeed, all I needed was a reason to carry on this fight and I have it. I hope whoever reads this in your country, doesn't take freedom of expression for granted and lands a helping hand here to free our intellectuals just to bring back the thorns of our bed of roses.