Bülent Utku is Cumhuriyet’s lawyer. We are not greatly accustomed to seeing lawyers detained alongside journalists. But, now in Turkey things are happening about which you would have said, “Not in a million years.” Utku was detained and held for nine months. He had the following to say about the process:
They are detaining the truth
The trial brought against the Cumhuriyet newspaper employees is not only one of the weakest and most contrived in legal terms of the trials brought in recent times, but also the weakest and most contrived in terms of the political arguments on which it rests. The wish is to charge and punish journalism that seeks out the truth and to move from Cumhuriyet newspaper to intimidating other press and publishing organs. We see truth-seeking newspapers being targeted by the political rulership in every period. There is a belief that the first way to prevent the truth from being learnt is to silence those journalists who hunt down the truth.
They didn’t manage to convince anybody
With the drafting of the indictment, the public at large saw that a completely political operation was involved. The launching and conducting of the operation by a prosecutor who stands charged of FETO membership with an aggravated life sentence sought against him is on its own a scandal. They didn’t manage to convince anybody that Cumhuriyet newspaper had been taken over by FETO and the PKK.
Contacts with people who have ByLock was submitted as evidence of crime in the trial. In fact, a person can be called by anyone external to their will. A person cannot know if the person calling them has ByLock or not. This also applies to the people we call. Until such time as the content of telephone calls and message chains made with people who have the ByLock program is revealed and these are determined to have been communications as part of organisational activities, there is no possibility of adducing them as evidence in penal law. It is perfectly normal for journalists in the course of their lives and professions to speak to people from all walks of life. This kind of logic could open the door to millions of people being charged and this would be a grave situation.
It is known that every profession deforms people to a greater or lesser extent. With a political operation staring me in the face, there were times when I was affected by the deformity of “seeing things legally”. We were detained for nine months. We have five colleagues who still remain in detention. And, as a jurist, I was foolish enough to wager who might be the first to get out from among people into whom the launching even of an investigation was not merited on legal and statutory grounds.
Unprecedented solitary confinement
Solitary confinement leaves its mark on life in Silivri Prison. I can say, both as a lawyer and as one who has had actually been through it in my previous experience, solitary confinement conditions to this degree have never existed in any period. What was done to us was not detention. It was holding, because detention is a legal concept while holding has no legal and statutory basis.
Justice March excitement
The things that upset me the most while we were inside were the explosions that happened at Dolmabahçe and Reina and the detaining of journalists, parliamentarians and human rights defenders. The Justice March and the referendum, on the other hand, were breathtaking. The hopelessness over my being unable to participate in the Justice March and effectively take part in the referendum were foremost among the events that affected me in prison.
We did not suffer injustice
In prison, if you are aware of why you have been detained, you cannot correctly call your experience an injustice. Or, it would be more correct to say that those who are holding you in jail are incapable of causing injustice. This awareness frustrates the aspirations of those who imagine they will cause you misery and grief and cow you by holding you in prison.
We thought about a hunger strike
In an environment in prison in which there exist solitary confinement conditions, unlawfulness and usurpation of democratic rights, a person contemplates methods of all kinds for seeking rights. Hunger strikes are one of these. I read Eduardo Galeano’s book entitled “Women” while I was in jail. It tells of a hunger strike that took place in Bolivia. As far as I recall, five women mineworkers decide that the thing that is impeding them is not the dictator in power but the fear within them. They go to the capital and start a hunger strike at Christmas. Everyone turns up their noses and says, “What can five women do against a dictator?” It is not long before they are joined by a priest. In the days to come, the streets of the capital fill with hungry and workless people. On the 23rd day after they started their hunger strike, the dictator can take no more and steps down from power. This is a summary of what happened. It is one of the most important examples in which women have started a civil disobedience action. Of course, that is Latin America. But, I think that hunger strikes are one of the last methods for seeking rights that can be resorted to.
Unseen in history
The operation staged against Cumhuriyet newspaper is a political operation the like of which has not been seen in history. As far as I know, there has not been an operation against a paper involving the arresting and detaining of virtually all the managers and certain columnists at the same time. With the silencing of Cumhuriyet newspaper being the aim in this operation, a warning has also been sent to the entire press. Turkey is passing through a dark period. There is unbridled intimidation of opponents under the pretext of the coup attempt. Cumhuriyet newspaper, HDP mayors, MPs and co-chairs and CHP MPs have been targeted and detained.
Jail for those who did the exposing
Ahmet Şık, who exposed FETO’s game with the book “The Imam’s Army” and was imprisoned on account of this, is now in detention on charges of aiding FETO. What kind of thinking, understanding, rectitude and humanity can countenance this? Akın Atalay, Murat Sabuncu, Kadri Gürsel, Ahmet Şık and Emre İper are brave, honest, splendid people of this country with fine brains, minds and spirits whose quarry is the truth. Not making use of these sparkling minds and keeping them inside for longer is Turkey’s loss. People’s consciences are plagued by these colleagues of ours still being in detention on such charges as aiding FETO. I hope that our colleagues walking out of prison on 11 September will go some way towards healing wounded consciences.
We awaited our paper each morning as if awaiting a friend
Of course, we worried about our paper in jail. The operation was aimed at silencing Cumhuriyet newspaper. Despite this, it has not abandoned well-established principles. It has courageously continued to appear. Waiting for and getting Cumhuriyet newspaper in the morning in prison is like awaiting and warmly embracing a friend.
List of things missed over nine months: Chat, fried eggs, raki and the motorbike.
Actually, there are so many things at so many different times that you miss in prison. Sometimes being securely ensconced among friends and their chat, sometimes fried eggs, sometimes being at a table of raki drinkers. But, I also greatly missed my motorbike trips. I am not actually one to get angry easily. I can’t say that I got angry, all the prison conditions notwithstanding. The most pleasurable moments in prison for me were stretching out on the bed after having a bath and getting lost in a book, and the conversation and repartee engaged in by your cellmate while spread across the bed at three in the morning on the top floor of the cell.
Bülent Utku, one of Cumhuriyet newspaper’s lawyers: We were held, not detained