Berberoğlu jailed, Demirtaş speaks from prison

By Independent Turkey

The crackdown on opposition in Turkey has continued with the detention of Enes Berberoğlu, a member of parliament for the Republican People’s Pary (CHP) who now joins Selahattin Demirtaş, and many of the co-leader of the People’s Democratic Party’s (HDP) colleagues in jail.

Selahattin Demirtaş of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (left) and Enes Berberoğlu (right) of the Republican People’s Party are both now in jail

Berberoğlu was the editor-in-chief of Hürriyet when the newspaper published photos allegedly showing arms being transported to rebel groups in Syria by trucks belonging to the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MİT). He was charged with “revealing classified state information by way of political and military espionage” and on Wednesday was sentenced by Istanbul criminal court to 25 years in prison.

Meanwhile, the now seasoned veteran of political arrest, co-leader of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtaş has been responding to questions from a journalist in prison, which is published in full below. Demırtaş, along with 11 other HDP members of parliament, was arrested on November 4 2016 and charged with alleged membership of an armed terrorist organization.

The targeting of the HDP has been particularly aggressive and systematic. Following the arrest of the 13 HDP members of parliament, the crackdown on all levels of HDP party membership has intensified. According to figures from the Human Rights Association of Turkey’s annual report on 2016, 38 HDP provincial co-heads, 97 HDP district co-heads, and 83 HDP mayors have been arrested as of April 2017. Meanwhile, 84 elected municipal administrations under HDP control have been seized and placed under state administration.

While the political suppression of the HDP has been normalised under the state of emergency that has been in place since the failed July 15 coup attempt, the arrest of CHP MP Berberoğlıu indicates a willingness on the part of the government to extend the crackdown to the main opposition party.

The jailing of such a high-level CHP party official has been met with mass protests. On the day after the sentencing, CHP party officials and supporters gathered in Ankara’s Güven Park for a “Justice March” from the capital city to Istanbul, demanding the release of Berberoğlu. 

Critics have, however, pointed to the CHP leadership’s muted response when 13 HDP MPs were similarly arrested in November last year. HDP spokesperson Osman Baydemir condemned the case against Berberoğlu’s arrest, adding “while there are those who have remained silent to the imprisonment of Selahattin Demirtaş, as comrades of Demirtaş we will not remain silent. No matter which party one belongs too, when a member of parliament is arrested, we will stand against it.”


Demirtaş responded to the questions of Dihaber journalist Hayri Demir in a letter from prison:

How many books have you read since you have been in prison? What kind of books do you tend to read?

I haven’t kept track of how many books I’ve read, but I would guess I’ve read about 100 books. I try to read all kinds of books, but I have been especially reading novels.

Have you been surprised by any visits from people you weren’t expecting?

Besides visits from my lawyers, I am only allowed to meet with my family. Some of my lawyer friends that I used to know many years ago have come to visit me as well. We kind of joke about it saying “Well thank God for this government, now that they have imprisoned you we get to visit you and catch up as much as we want!” Unfortunately, due to the State of Emergency regulations they do not allow me to meet with my uncles, aunts, and cousins. I’m only allowed to meet with my immediate relatives. They have denied my legal right to meet with 3 people who aren’t family. The extent of legal violations and pressures in prison under the State of Emergency is at its peak. We see this from the inside.

Have you gotten any messages from AKP members?

I get messages and letters from all different sectors of society. I’ve gotten letters of solidarity from hundreds of people who identify themselves as CHP, AKP, even MHP members. This makes me especially happy. Unfortunately, I haven’t received any letters from the AKP leaders and members of parliament who I have known personally for years in politics, and who identify themselves as advocates for equality, justice, and democracy; forget about letters, they seem to have swallowed their little tongues in fear! I haven’t received any messages from high level AKP officials.  

In addition to letter correspondence and personal meetings, you also have the right to telephone correspondence. Who do you usually call for these phone conversations?

Every 15 days, I’m allowed to have a 10 minute phone conversation with my wife. Because the time of our phone conversation is set in advance, my wife and my daughters are usually together. My oldest daughter Delal has been getting very good at playing the violin lately, so she plays the violin for me on the phone. And my youngest daughter Dılda plays guitar for me. After the 10 minutes is up the call automatically gets disconnected.

How many letters have you gotten so far?

I don’t know the exact number but I’ve received thousands of letters.

What countries have you received letters from?

I haven’t been able to come up with a statistic but I think almost every country in Europe, Canada, America, and Australia, so dozens of countries.

How do you respond to these letters? Do you collect the letters?

I respond to the majority of the letters. Due to the vast amount of letters I receive, I have to respond to some with a simple “thank you” message. I collect all of the letters I receive; all my packing space is nearly full! I’m archiving all of them according to a system.

Can you talk about the most interesting letter you received?

For me, all the letters I receive are interesting and immensely meaningful. I can’t single any one out because of this.

Do you receive letters in different languages?

Usually they are written in Turkish, Kurdish, and English, but mostly Turkish letters.

Was there a letter that you found especially touching?

To be honest I find all the letters I receive very touching.

How is your artistic work going?

I’m pursuing my art with an amateur spirit but with a very specific purpose behind it. For me being serious about politics isn’t about having a furrowed brow, it’s about taking what you do seriously. In this sense, I think humour is an incredibly serious kind of work. One of the greatest instruments of resistance, of politics, of life, is humour. It’s the best and most sincere way to reach the hearts of the people. Literature is the same way. The political discourse of our age is ugly, rude, othering, and masculinist. Art on the other hand, can chip away at all of this and serve an important purpose. The light spirit of art and literature can communicate more clearly what the HDP is all about. Regardless of its success, I wanted to make a genuine, intimate contribution to art, however small it may be. I have tried to motivate my young friends who view me as a political role model to pursue art and literature.

What directed you to pursue art under such conditions?

I invested in art precisely to break that fear that they wanted to spread by arresting us. The message I want to send in this regard is; Here, locked away in prison cells, we are not quivering in fear. We are in good spirits, we are strong, and we are not afraid. Resources are very limited here but still I make sure to set aside time for art and literature. I receive very helpful criticisms on my work, both positive and negative. This motivates me even more. The only criticism I cannot agree with is the notion that I am not demonstrating the necessary serious political leadership by producing art, paintings, and literature in prison. I want to take this opportunity to call on our people and our friends to continue standing up against fascism everywhere with decisiveness and in good spirits. Along with my dear friend Abdullah Zeydan, we send you all our love and warm regards.

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