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‘Was it worth it, Kazım?’  

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Kazım Kızıl

The date in the intelligence on me is noteworthy: April 20, 2017. This means that I was detained before they launched an investigation to arrest me. But how important can the order of the events be if the issue is justice!

Unfortunately, the people and institutions in the article below are not fictional.

I pay my bill and rapidly exit the cafe, a place I frequent a lot. The owner, brother Barış, gives me a parting warning: “Take care, son.”

“It’s only a [press] statement, brother. I’ll shoot a video and come back,” I tell him, smiling.

A handful of university students demonstrating against the results of a referendum, with placards in their hands, are now surrounded by around 150 uniformed or plainclothes police officers from the public order unit, the anti-terrorism branch and others.

There are also reporters, journalists and media activists. After chanting slogans for a few minutes, the group decides to disperse. All of a sudden, however, the police surround the dispersing group. Soon, they’re pushing their knees onto their heads, pulling their hair, grabbing their necks and pushing them down. My camera is on and records everything. I can see two large hands coming toward me. One of them tightly grabs by wrist, while the other grabs me by the neck and pushes me down. The officer removes me from the crowd as another joins him. They bend both my arms behind my back and start dragging me, one of them by my neck and the other by my shoulder.

Later, six of us are crowded into a police cell measuring just a few square meters. If one counts our friends in the other cells, we are more than 20. We’ve been in custody for two days; beside our clothes, all we’ve got is one blanket each. For pillows, we use our arms. From time to time, our next of kin have been sending food from outside the prison. The prosecutor, meanwhile, has demanded an additional four days of detention, meaning we’ll be for at least another two days.

So far, we haven’t been accused of anything; all we’ve had is daily health checks, visits by lawyers and people passing on greetings from the outside.

Apart from a few, all the detained are university students who were detained in İzmir’s Bornova neighborhood during a demonstration against the results of the April 16, 2017, constitutional referendum. Of course, not all them were participating in the demonstration — one of them was just watching. Another was grabbing a bite nearby but was detained because police vaguely recalled him from a previous demonstration. Another was detained while dancing the local “halay” during a second protest against the detentions.

“Is it a crime to dance the halay, brother?” he asks.

Then just to cheer up, he asks: “Is it because I was leading the halay?” 

You should have seen him. The guy is nearly 2 meters tall and weighs more than 100 kilos. You’d have to be insane or have an unshakable trust in justice to dare detain him.

Then, on the night of April 19, the allegations come to light:

In addition to “violating the law on meetings and demonstrations,” I am also accused of “provoking the people to hatred and enmity” because of a tweet I posted on the referendum night, reading, “Our people have pointed out the streets to us with this referendum result… :)).”

We testify the next day. I acknowledge that the Twitter account belongs to me, while rejecting both of the allegations. I and a colleague from our outlet promise each other that if one of use gets arrested, the other will campaign for him. We don’t even speak about the probability that both of us might get arrested…

They take us to the courthouse in Izmir’s Bayraklı district, handcuffed behind the back. We are brought to the cells on the ground floor of the “modern and beautiful building,” whose façade features glass and heavy cement. The cell is so awful that if I had seen it in a courtroom movie, I would never have believed that it could exist on the ground floor of such a “beautiful” building. In any case, we begin to wait to testify to the prosecutor.

The lawyer comes with a piece of paper in his hand. The allegation of “provoking the people to hatred and enmity” has been dropped, to be replaced by “insulting the president.” Just before I digest the first tidbit of news, I face another shocking realization. The prosecutor will not hear us. But before I can even ask why, there’s a third shock.

“Referred to court with a demand for the suspect’s arrest…”

By the end of an endless day, we are now at the courthouse. The head of the panel of judges joins the prosecutor, who did not deem it necessary to ask us any question about the new allegations. He asks nothing about “insulting the president.” How can I defend myself against an allegation I am entirely unclear about? I can only reject the accusations, saying that I was there to cover a news report, that the reporters and demonstrators present were exercising their constitutional rights and that no one committed a crime.

Would anything change if I defended myself or not?

The decision has been declared. Seven of us are arrested. We are handcuffed again and taken back to the cell in the courthouse before heading to prison. Police officers lead each of us by the arm away.

“Was it worth it now, Kazım?” mine asks. I cannot tell if he is mocking me or being sincere. There is no expression on his face to aid my understanding! By the time we reach the prison, it’s almost midnight. We are placed in an isolation ward — and what I lived through there for three days is a total other story.

June 2017

I have just woken up. While going downstairs for breakfast, someone grabs me by the arm and pats my shoulder.

“Well done, brother. You’re standing trial for seven years!”

Before I can even blurt out “What seven years?” someone passes me a copy of Cumhuriyet:

“A lawsuit demanding seven years in prison has been filed against journalist and documentary maker Kazım Kızıl, who was detained and arrested alongside demonstrators while reporting on the “No” protests in İzmir.”

With that Cumhuriyet report, I learn that I am alleged to have “insulted the president” with my tweets. My lawyer decides to build the defense on the violation of the right to a defense, along with violations of freedom of thought and expression.

The date in the intelligence on me is noteworthy: April 20, 2017. This means that I was detained before they launched an investigation to arrest me. First came the sentence, then the elements of the crime. But if the issue is justice, how important can the order of events or the right to a defense be?

Defense, what does defense mean? We are speaking of justice here, can you hear it? Everything is for justice.

My friend and lawyer Eda Bekçi pays her periodic Friday visit to me. The guard who takes me from the ward and subjects me to a body search (it’s a guard that has caused trouble for me since I first came to prison) asks me while taking me back to the ward: “Kazım, I read the newspapers and you speak of the prison. We guards also have problems; why don’t you also write about us?” From the sound of his voice, I ascertain that he is serious about it.

“I will write about it if you tell me about it,” I tell him. “In the end, everything is for justice.”

But brother Fırat, another inmate, is disturbed by my articles. “Kazım, look. You aren’t keeping quiet; you’ll get into trouble,” he tells me after reading one of my articles published in Cumhuriyet. I can hardly stop myself from laughing:

“But Brother Fırat, how can I face further trouble? I’m already inside.”

I learn, however, what he means just a few days later, when the prison administration conducts a raid together with soldiers. Following a general search, they ask for my locker and seize all my notes. Indeed, justice is something that should manifest itself continuously, isn’t it?

Following three months of stories, we finally appear before court. At the end of a hearing that lasts all day long, I hear the word “release” in a sentence that also includes my name.

I turn my back and see everyone standing, chanting slogans and cheering.

The trial is not over yet; one hearing follows another. My next rendezvous with justice is on March 16. We keep waiting. Why shouldn’t we?

In the end, everything is for justice! 

While I was penning this article, journalist Ayşe Düzkan was sent to prison to serve an 18-month sentence. What is this “short story” of a few pages worth? Ahmet Şık, Akın Atalay, Murat Sabuncu and Deniz Yücel remained under arrest for hundreds of days, while nearly 140 other journalists remain behind bars. Zehra Doğan was sentenced to prison for allegations that included the pictures she drew, while Can Dündar was forced to escape the country, Ahmet Altan has been sentenced to aggravated life term. Then there are the indictments that are not prepared, the files with gag orders and the files that are kept waiting on the shelves.

 “When a riot broke out during the Ottoman era, all storytellers were collected and locked in a vineyard house to keep them from telling the stories of the rebels,” says an anecdote. But stories are still told, one way or another. In the end, everything is for justice!

This article was published as part of “Stories of Justice,” a project supported by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.