Jun 23 2018

Numerous political prisoners in Turkey will follow elections in jail

Justice and judiciary reform was one of the central issues in Turkey ahead of the elections to be held on Sunday. That is natural as the government’s purge against its opponents after the coup attempt in 2016, starting with those allegedly affiliated to Gülen movement, accused of orchestrating the coup attempt, then spreading to people with different ideological identities, particularly targeting the Kurdish political movement. 

It is worth remembering the political prisoners who are forced to follow the elections in jails as the 24 June vote will also be pivotal for rights and freedoms in Turkey. Our list here covers only a few examples, but we should underline that numerous people in Turkey are also in jail, mostly because of practicing their freedom of expression.  


The number of detained and convicted journalists in Turkey is predicted as 182 according to the P24 freedom of expression web-site, after Ege Sevim Öztürk, a journalist investigating the coup attempt was detained on June 8 and arrested by court this week.

The full list of journalists in prison, including is available on P24’s web-site. Let’s remember two of them.

Zehra Doğan
Zehra Doğan was the co-founder and a reporter of the pro-Kurdish Jin News Agency (JİNHA), which was staffed entirely by women. She was first arrested in Mardin in southeast Turkey in 2016 and was sentenced to two years, nine months, and 22 days in prison on charges of being a member of a [terrorist] organisation. 
Zehra Doğan is also an artist and she was sentenced by the court because she drew Turkish flags on buildings destroyed by Turkish security forces during the Turkish government’s military operations in mostly Kurdish populated cities and towns in southeast Turkey. In its decision, the court stated that Doğan committed a crime by sharing her work on social media accounts.
Doğan continued her artistic works from her prison cell, by making paint from food, drinks and her menstrual blood and her art has been exhibited across the world. She won on June 21 the Courage in Journalism award given by the International Women's Media Foundation.
World-famous graffiti artist Banks in March with a mural in New York protested Doğan’s imprisonment.

Ahmet Turan Alkan

Ahmet Turan Alkan was a columnist for Zaman newspaper, the main media outlet of the Gülen movement, which is accused by the Turkish government of orchestrating the coup attempt. He was arrested after the coup attempt and has been in prison for almost two years, charged with being a member of the Gülen movement and attempting to overthrow the government.

Alkan, who was at the age of 65 when he was first prisoned.,has written a novel in prison, Sağ Yanım (My Right Side), the Guardian reported today. “I tried to face up to everything that I had been through,” Alkan told to the Guardian from his prison cell. “More importantly – and sadly – everything that I once believed in, and fought for, for many years. My novel became the product of some sort of catharsis.”

Ahmet Turan Alkan

Deputies, mayors, and others from the People’s Democratic Party

Selahattin Demirtaş, the former co-chair and the presidential candidate of the mainly Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) is probably the most famous political prisoner of the party. 


However, many members of the HDP are also in prson, including the party’s other former co-chair Figen Yüksekdağ, deputies such as İdris Baluken and Ferhat Öncü, as well as nearly all elected provincial and district mayors of the party.

Figen Yüksekdağ on Friday posted on twitter photographs of herself and former HDP deputies Sebahat Tuncel and Aysel Tuğluk taken in prison. 

Human rights and civil society activists

Osman Kavala

Turkish philanthropist and businessman Osman Kavala was a founder of İletişim Publications, a prominent publishing house, and was heavily involved in think-tank TESEV, the Turkish branch of the Open Society Institute, and the human rights group Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly. Kavala also headed Anadolu Kültür (Anatolian Culture), a civil society organisation supporting cultural diversity in Turkey and neighbouring countries.  

Kavala was arrested on Oct. 18, 2017 on charges of trying to overthrow the government and the constitutional order. The charges are largely based on his alleged communication with organisers of a workshop held between July 15 and July 17, 2016, on the island of Büyükada, off Istanbul, namely the Middle East studies wing of the U.S.-based Smithsonian Institution. 

“As of the end of May, the seventh month of my detention in Silivri was completed. We are waiting for the indictment to be prepared. Our requests for release have been rejected. Given that nothing demonstrated during my interrogation constitutes solid evidence, I requested to see the evidence in my file, if there is any, in order to be able to provide explanation. We could not get any response to this request,” he wrote from his prison cell on June 11.

Osman Kavala, chairman of the cultural institute, Anadolu Kültür, speaking at a press conference in the European Parliament on 11 December 2014
Osman Kavala, chairman of the cultural institute, Anadolu Kültür, speaking at a press conference in the European Parliament on 11 December 2014. AA

Taner Kılıç

Taner Kılıç – the honorary Chair of Amnesty Turkey – and a well known lawyer specialised on refugee rights was detained in June 2017. He is officially charged with membership to Gülen movement. The only evidence against him is as a secure mobile messaging application on his phone called ByLock that the authorities say was used by members of the Gülen group. Two police reports have already stated that there was no evidence that Kılıç ever downloaded the application on his phone.  

Amnesty International has relentlessly campaigned for the release of Taner Kılıç, since the first day he was sent to prison.

Enis Berberoğlu, deputy of the People’s Republican Party 

Enis Berberoğlu is a well know Turkish journalist and the former general director of the Hürriyet newspaper. After resigning from the Hürriyet newspaper in 2014, he was first elected to the Party Council of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and was elected as a member of the Parliament in 2015. His immunity as a parliamentarian was lifted in May 2016.

In February 2018, he was sentenced to five years ten months in prison for revealing classified information”. Berberoğlu is accused of leaking a footage to Cumhuriyet newspaper’s former editor in chief Can Dündar, who is also being tried in absentia and is now living in Germany. The footage showed trucks used allegedly by the Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency to send weapons to Islamist rebel fighters in Syria.

In June 2017, the CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu started a ‘Justice March’ for the release of Enis Berberoğlu and other people who are unlawfully held in prison. Many party members and volunteers walked with Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu during the March, which ended 25 days later in İstanbul, where a mass rally was organised.